Ben Brooks, the author of Stories for Boys Who Dare to Be Different, proved that he was an author to watch last year when he released his debut children’s fiction title, The Impossible Boy. I loved the idea of an invented classmate becoming real and the sinister secret organisation that came to try and restore order. It was just the right mixture of whimsical and darkness, with a good dash of humour. Ben Brooks is back again with his latest book, The Greatest Inventor. In this story, Ben transports us to a land that is caught in the grip of a mysterious organisation and whose people become addicted to new technologies.
This is a story within a story. The prologue introduces us to the author, who is having trouble finding his next story. While walking in the snow he stumbles on a cottage and is greeted by the young boy who lives there. The boy offers to tell him and story, and so the main story begins. The boy tells the story of Victor, a boy who lives on a farm with his parents and his pet giant tortoise, Saint Oswold, in the village of Rainwater. One day, an inventor trundles in to Rainwater, offering the people his marvelous inventions. The people of Rainwater refuse to buy his inventions and the inventor puts a curse on them, poisoning their drinking water. Everyone but Victor and Saint Oswold are doubled over, with horrible pain, so Victor knows that it is up to him to follow the inventor and demand that he cures them. The further that Victor gets from Rainwater the more villages he passes through. Each of the villages has a different purpose – hunting, mining and inventing. Each of these villages is affected by one of the inventions that the inventor has sold them. One village can do nothing but stare at themselves in their Mirrors of Emit Tsol, another one spends all their time inside, looking after their own tiny model farm. Victor meets other children along the way who are also unaffected by the inventions like him. They all band together to try and find the inventor and make him put things right. The more children that Victor meets the more he learns of the organisation known as the collectors. Each village is deep in debt to the collectors, who give them the things that they need to live, in return for the things that their village gathers (rubies from the miners, skins and meat from the hunters). It is not long before Victor and his friends find themselves in the middle of the army of the collectors and the army of the inventor. Can they save themselves and their villages?
The Greatest Inventor is a fable about technology, wrapped up in a story that is brimming with imagination. Ben touches on the addictive nature of technology and the way that it can take over our lives. The adults in the villages become completely useless and forget about everything else that they should be doing. The children can see the effect that the inventions are having on them, so they are the ones who try to save their families. The story-within-a-story format completely hooked me in and Ben’s storytelling made the world around me disappear. I really liked how Ben gave you little pieces of the whole picture as you go on the journey with Victor, until you finally figure everything out. I have to admit to not fully realising the significance of the three different inventions until right near the end, but when it clicked I could see the parallels between our world and the world of the story. I also loved how the ‘Greatest Inventor’ of the title kept changing. Just when you think the title belongs to one particular person you’re proven wrong.
The characters are all interesting and complex, and many of them are different from what they first appear. Each of the children are quite different and bring their own skills and knowledge to the group. Most of them have not left their villages before, but are determined to find the inventor and free their families from the grip of the collectors. I loved the character of the inventor as he is quite eccentric, but he’s also not who he first appears to be. I loved that he just took over an abandoned castle and put in his golden bathroom, with its golden bathtub and toilet.
Not only is it a great story but it also has a fantastic cover. The golden bathroom of the inventor bursts off the cover, making it a book that is hard to miss on the shelf. Victor and his friends are all there on the cover, along with the inventor in his bath-cap. George Ermos has brought Ben’s characters to life and his illustrations show us some of the funniest parts of the story. I’m a huge fan of his illustrations and I would have liked to see more of them in the book.
I can’t recommend The Greatest Inventor and The Impossible Boy highly enough. They are especially great for those readers who like an adventure story that’s a little bit different. I think they would be a great next-step for those kids who have enjoyed David Walliams, Roald Dahl, or David Baddiel but want something with a bit more bite. They would both be great for read alouds or novel sets for Years 5-8.