A young teen searches for his father with the assistance of unusual beetles in British documentarian Leonard's debut novel, a series opener.
Five years after the death of his mother, 13-year-old Darkus Cuttle must confront the disappearance of his father. As the media frenzy and police investigation wind down, the boy moves in with his eccentric explorer uncle. One evening after school Darkus meets a “somehow friendly”–looking rhinoceros beetle he later names Baxter. The duo finds “beetle mountain,” a pile of teacups and mold home to peculiar beetles. In turn, their discovery draws the attention of Lucretia Cutter, the Mad Scientist of Fashion, known for her deadly beetle obsession. Leonard unravels the madcap plot in sporadic bursts of frenzied action and humor. With the help of friends, Darkus soon plots to save the beetles from the villainous Cutter as he learns the reasons behind his father’s disappearance. Throughout his quest, he encounters a whole range of offbeat characters, ranging from the grotesque (the violent and inane cousins Humphrey and Pickering) to the tragic (Novak Cutter, Lucretia’s ill-treated actress daughter). As Darkus builds a beetle army to match Cutter's ferocity, emotional resonance recedes in favor of entertaining set pieces.
Overall, a charming and (at times) affecting romp through beetle land. (entomology dictionary) (Fantasy. 8-12)