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A View From A Bond Fan,
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This review is from: The Young Bond Series, Book One Silverfin (A James Bond Adventure) (Hardcover)
Critics complained that John Gardner and Raymond Benson could never step free of the shadow of Ian Fleming in their 007 "continuation novels." The good news is Charlie Higson has finally stepped clear of that shadow...the bad news is he's landed squarely in the shadow of J.K. Rowling. Parts of SilverFin read a bit too much like a Harry Potter clone, and while this may please the pre-teen target audience, it may make Young Bond Book #1 a tough read for the more seasoned James Bond fan. (But make sure you read this review to the end -- it get's better.)
After a thrilling opening prologue that would not be out of place in a legitimate...err, I mean, adult James Bond novel, we meet young Bond as he arrives at Eton in the 1930s (kudos to Higson and the copyright holders for making these books period). Like Potter, James is an orphan sent to a school filled with eccentric headmasters, odd slang, and old rituals. Like Potter, he is polite and self-effacing. For much of the novel he is really an observer of more talkative and flamboyant characters. In what is certainly a low point of young Bond's masculine development, Wilder Lawless, the spunky "girl" of the story, wrestles him to the ground and shoves leaves into his mouth. This is clearly NOT Fleming's Bond. It's not even Roger Moore's Bond. But know this is also by design...
It's no spoiler to say Young Bond #1 is a story of transformation and that, by the end of the novel, the timid boy has found his 007 steel and menace via his harrowing experience on Loch Silverfin. If nothing else, this book HAD to be that. And when Bond finally shakes off his yammering Potteresque companions, the action of the final third of the book is downright thrilling! Age becomes less of a factor when Bond is facing off with a madman or battling for his life in the waters beneath a Scottish Castle. It's here Higson begins to channel Fleming at his best and shows us the true potential of a Young Bond series. For this old Bond fan, the final third was a last minute save; a rousing return to Bondian basics with a dash of sci-fi horror thrown in. I would still rather be reading the adventures of an adult 007, but like young Bond himself, I found myself transformed in the end by SilverFin.
So for those die-hard Bond fans predisposed to not liking the Young Bond series, know that SilverFin will probably not change your mind, and I recommend seeking out a secondhand copy of John Pearson's superb James Bond: The Authorized Biography of 007, which offers up a far more interesting -- or at least more adult -- version of young Bond's upbringing. But for those more pliable fans, like myself, who have enjoyed the various "continuation novels" and are willing to gamble on this Young Bond series, SilverFin will satisfy (and maybe even surprise). It's a good start. I just hope Higson will shake off the Harry Potter contrivances and edge back toward that shadow of Ian Fleming in Book #2.