When I started this blog I decided that I wouldn't do book reviews. But since I'm reading so much 9-12 (Middle Grade) fiction, and some teen stuff too, It seems a shame not to talk about it here, especially as I'm considering these books and their genre from a writer's point of view.
Here, then, is my review for SilverFin, the first in the 'Young Bond' series by Charlie Higson.
On a recent trip to the UK I bought a small armful of books from The Bumper Bookshop, an independent children's bookshop (and therefore a precious thing) in Hastings. The books I chose were mostly those flagged up as popular by the assistant, rather than titles I would have chosen myself. I need to read for information as much as for pleasure. Anyway, having recently given up on one of these books (it's hard to concentrate when there's blood trickling out of your ears), I decided to try this James Bond prequel next. I'm glad that I did.
I'm not a great fan of James Bond, much preferring John le Carré's approach to spy fiction. I have only read one of Ian Fleming's books, but I've seen plenty of the films, and so even my inner eleven-year-old wasn't really looking forward to SilverFin. I was expecting something much cheesier and gaudier than the rather restrained and considered schoolboy adventure that I actually found.
Since these books were deliberately commissioned by Ian Fleming Publications to extend the Bond canon back into the spy's childhood, Higson probably had little choice but to follow the famous 007 formula that we all know and, er recognise. And it's all here, believe me. But at the same time, the author has still managed to give us something fresher than might have been the case.
So yes, there's a dastardly foreign baddie with a plan to take over the world, but the author doesn't insult us with the usual German or oriental, or a shameful traduction of a Jew. An unwholesome American lunatic is far more interesting. And yes, the main female interest, Wilder Lawless, has a silly name and flowing blond hair, but thankfully she doesn't get the full Bond-girl treatment. No bulletproof bikini for her, though she does thunder around on a black horse called Martini.
There's a dash of formal intelligence gathering in the person of dying uncle Max, who also provides an Aston Martin for James to drive (this is the 1930s so it's okay), but we're spared the daft gadgets and empty patriotism. Teen Bond and his pals have to save the world with nothing more than pluck, penknives and schoolboy guile, and hurrah for that!
Perhaps the biggest surprise was just how likeable I found Higson's Bond. 007 has always seemed a suave, selfish blank to me, too smooth to ever have any purchase on a reader's/viewer's affections. But the bullied orphan we discover in SilverFin, capable and privileged but also vulnerable and unsure, is a hero anyone could get behind.
In terms of structure and plot, there are one or two slight weakness in my opinion. After an intriguing start we have to watch Bond find his feet at Eton, which slowed down the pace far too much for me. But I suppose, this being the very first official Bond story, there was a lot of background and character development to get out of the way first. The real adventure only starts half way through the book, and I can't help thinking there could have been more done to develop it in the first half. Also, Wilder Lawless gets too small a part, being little more than a token girl in the end, but I suspect she got edited into the background, since the author seems to like her.
These things aside though, I'm surprised at just how much my inner eleven-year-old enjoyed SilverFin, and I would recommend this book to anyone over ten in search of a well-written adventure story, Bond fan or not. Thank you, Charlie Higson.
SilverFin is published by Puffin Books in the UK and Miramax Books in the US.