Book review by Deane Barker
tags: fiction, james-bond, young-adult
Charlie Higson

This is the first novel in the Young Bond series. It covers James Bond in 1933 when he’s a 13-year-old boy at Eton.

The date setting of the novel is actually never mentioned. I was trying to reverse-engineer it based on comments by the characters. Mentions of “the war” had me thinking they were talking about WW2, and so I put the novel in the mid-50s.

But later, a character praises an up-and-coming Adolf Hitler, which made me realize “the war” was actually WW1, and the novel was set much earlier. Wikipedia has the date as 1933. Again, it’s not mentioned, but Bond’s fictional birthdate is 1920, so if you do the math…

The first act of the novel has a very Harry Potter feel to it. Instead of Hogwarts, we have Eton. Instead of Malfoy, we have Hellebore (he even has a nefarious father). Instead of the “Triwizard Tournament,” we have the “Triple Cup.” This is the stage for a lot of set-up and exposition.

In the second act, Bond goes to visit his aunt in Scotland, and the gears of the plot started turning. A boy has disappeared in the country side, and something weird is going on at a castle owned by (the aforementioned) Lord Hellebore.

I’m told this is a “young adult” novel, but I feel like it’s pretty graphic for that. It starts out with a young boy seemingly being eaten alive by eels. Then there’s a genetic mutant of some kind, graphic description of the horrors of war, people being pulled half-devoured from the loch, someone being eaten in half by wild pigs, etc. It’s not for the faint-of-heart.

The plot is…well, a little slow. It’s the first novel in the series, so there’s a lot of background information to cover. Bond spends time with his aunt and uncle, and they cover things like what happened to Bond’s parents, his uncle’s experiences in the war, etc.

All along, there’s an attempt to plant the seeds of how Bond ended up like he did. He meets people that explain handy kills to him – how to fight, how to drive a car, hold to hold his breath for a long time, etc. – and young Bond is inspired by his uncle’s experiences as a spy in the war.

I started out thinking that James was just a younger version of the adult Bond. So, my original thinking was that he was some kind of super-kid, but he’s not – he’s an innocent boy that, mourning his dead parents, and who is slowly turning into the adult Bond over time.

It’s a solid first effort. Again, the exposition made the plot slow, so I’m interested to see what the succeeding novels do.

This is item #16 in a sequence of 616 items.

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