Beetle Boy

Beetle Boy was written by M.G. Leonard and first published in 2016. It is a science-fiction / fantasy novel aimed at middle grade readers which tells the story of a boy’s adventures with a super intelligent rhinoceros beetle. The novel forms the first part of The Battle of the Beetles series and is followed by Beetle Queen (2017) and Battle of the Beetles (2018).

Darkus Cuttle is pretty content with his life until the day that his father vanishes. No one is sure exactly how he came to disappear from inside a locked room in London’s Natural History Museum, but everyone seems to have a theory. Some believe that he was murdered, others believe that he ran away. Darkus refuses to believe any of this. He knows that his father wouldn’t abandon him. The only trouble is that he has no idea what could have happened to him.

Darkus is sent to live with his closest relative, an archaeologist that he knows as Uncle Max, and it is there that he makes a discovery that will change his life. He sees a giant beetle fall out of the trouser leg of his disgusting new neighbour and quickly takes it home as a pet. The beetle – Baxter – turns out to be a species of rhinoceros beetle that is not native to England. Stranger still, it seems to be trying to communicate with him.

With the help of Uncle Max, Baxter and his two new school friends, Virginia and Bertolt, Darkus begins to investigate his father’s disappearance. The clues all point to the famous fashionista Lucretia Cutter – a woman renowned for making creepy clothing out of insects. However, Lucretia also seems to have an odd interest in Darkus’s neighbours. Can Darkus uncover her secret plan, save his father and protect the rare beetles that call his street a home?

Insects have a tendency to get bad press in films and literature. They’re often portrayed as monsters – creepy, alien and dangerous. Because of this, Beetle Boy really was a refreshing read. As an insect lover myself, I think that it’s really important to teach children that bugs are actually fascinating. They are beautiful, diverse and vital to our eco systems. The best way to get children to take an interest in bugs rather than fear them is through stories like this.

Beetle Boy is actually a surprisingly educational novel. It takes its readers very seriously and spends a lot of time showing them just how wonderful beetles are. All of the species that are mentioned in this book are real and Leonard goes to great lengths to highlight interesting and unique features about them, from gentle giant goliath beetles to explosive bombardier beetles. The book is also careful to always use the correct terminology to describe beetles and contains a lovely glossary that explains these in a way that makes them easy to understand. Due to this, I think my favourite thing about the story is its sense of discovery. It really does make the reader want to learn more about beetles.

However, as a person who has kept exotic insects for a number of years, I feel that I should probably note that they don’t always make the best pets. Baxter and his friends are very special bugs and anyone who is curious about keeping rhinoceros beetles in the United Kingdom should do their research first. Caring for them can be expensive and a lot of species don’t live for very long once they reach their adult form. While I do find them fascinating creatures to keep and observe, they’re certainly not for everyone and can be quite a commitment.

Sorry, I went off a bit of tangent there.

Beetle Boy is very fast paced and provides a double-adventure for the young characters. On one side is Darkus’s investigations into his father’s disappearance and on the other is a mission to save the inhabitants of “Beetle Mountain” from being killed by a greedy collector. Both plot threads are equally as engrossing and very easy for young readers to follow, containing a nice amount of tension and being creepy and gross in places but never in a way that felt inappropriate for the target audience.

The story also raises some moral concerns, including conservation, genetic manipulation and even if it is ethical for collectors to kill insects. While it never focuses on any of these things too heavily, it still offers a lot of food for thought and material that would make for an interesting discussion with a younger reader.

The novel also ends really well. While it leaves a lot open for the sequel, it still ties up this stage of the plot in a way that made the story feel complete in its own right. I personally found that this was very effective as it made me want to read on. I am really curious to find out what Lucrecia Cutter’s master plan is, and how it will affect both Darkus and his beetle friends.

All of the characters in Beetle Boy are very strong and well rounded. The four young protagonists – Darkus, Virginia, Bertolt and Novak – all have distinct personalities and work very well together. The themes of teamwork and friendship are very important within the story and it was fun to watch the group plan the rescue of beetles. I also especially liked the focus on Bertolt’s fears in the story. He was the only character who was actively frightened by the beetles at first, yet he soon became a fan when he learned more about them.

The villain of the story is also suitably terrifying. Lucrecia Cutter is a bit like the Cruella de Vil of the entomology world but she proves to have some dark secrets as the story progresses. While we don’t learn everything about her in this instalment, I get the distinct impression that we have not seen the last of her. This is certainly something that I’m quite glad about. While she does seem to exist to be evil, she does it very well.

Yet, as great as the human characters are, it’s definitely the beetles that steal the show. Baxter is especially lovely, proving to both be a gentle (and somewhat clumsy) giant while still being fiercely protective of Darkus. Despite his intimidating appearance, he quickly proves to be one of the most harmless beetles of them all. It’s amazing how much character Leonard manages to give her invertebrate cast. I really can’t wait to see what new beetles Darkus befriends in the sequel.

So, in short, Beetle Boy is definitely a story that I’d recommend. It’s funny, action-packed and filled with strong characters and fascinating beetle facts. It’s certainly a must read for any budding young coleopterists and I really can’t wait to get my hands on its sequel.

Beetle Boy can be purchased as a Paperback, eBook and Audio Book on Amazon.co.uk

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4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Purplemanatees
    May 27, 2018 @ 23:08:24

    Love that your own beetle is in the picture! And it’s almost like he is posing! How cute

    Reply

  2. Trackback: Beetle Queen | Arkham Reviews

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