Young Bond: SilverFin

Young Bond SilverFin

I’ve already taken a look at Charlie Higson’s horror novels in my reviews of The Enemy and The Dead but for today’s post I’m going to be talking about some of his earlier work. The Young Bond series tells the story of James Bond’s teenage years, while he was an Eton student in the 1930s. Although Ian Fleming Publications originally wanted each novel in the series to be penned by a different author, Charlie Higson ended up writing the initial run of five novels – SilverFin (2005), Blood Fever (2006), Double or Die (2007), Hurricane Gold (2007) and By Royal Command (2008). The first book of the second series, authored by Steve Cole, was released in 2014 and titled Shoot to Kill. For the purpose of this review, I’ll be looking at SilverFin only.

After spending a couple of years being home schooled, James Bond finds it difficult to get used to life at Eton. The uniform is itchy and uncomfortable and the strict rules just seem to beg to be broken. Worst of all, he finds himself singled out by a group of older students – lead by the handsome American George Hellebore – who are intent on making his life a living Hell.

During the holidays, James heads to Scotland to stay with his Aunt and Uncle. On the way, he befriends a cockney rogue called Red Kelly who is heading north in search of his cousin Alfie who has recently disappeared. As Bond gets used to life in the country, he learns that Alfie’s disappearance is not the only strange occurrence to happen in the area.

George’s father – Lord Randolph Hellebore – has taken up residence in a castle on Loch Silverfin and erected fences around the whole area, threatening death to all those who trespass. As James and Red explore, they learn that Hellebore is under investigation from the Pinkerton Detective Agency and observe his men feeding fresh meat to something living in the Loch. James knows that he needs to get inside the castle if he is to learn the truth of what has happened to Alfie, however what he discovers could be deadly…

Nick and I have had many discussions over the last few days as to how necessary a prequel to James Bond actually is. We’ve found ourselves comparing the series to Andrew Lane’s Young Sherlock Holmes, as both take an iconic adult character and try to explain how they came to be so extraordinary. However, the difference between these two characters is that Sherlock Holmes has something inherently special about him – a photographic memory and intellectual capacity that can’t really be taught. At the end of the day, Bond is a spy. He doesn’t really have any unique characteristics – everything remarkable about his physical and mental prowess are just part of his spy training. As such, a book about how he came to become 007 seems a trifle unnecessary.

Added to this is the fact that Bond films have always been popular with teenagers. If you ask anyone to name the character traits of Bond, they will talk about gambling, smoking, womanising, fast car chases and vodka martinis (shaken, not stirred). Obviously, as the Bond in this novel is not even old enough to drive, none of these things occur within SilverFin. The result of this is the main character has very little in common with the James Bond of Ian Fleming’s novels. He is, in reality, just a teenage boy.

I’m getting a little off topic, so back to the story itself. SilverFin does its best to emulate the structure and feel of a Bond story (although many of the outright references are to Fleming’s novels, rather than the films and so would probably be missed by many teen readers). Lord Hellebore is a very typical Bond villain, possessing a remote stronghold, a private army and a liking for monologuing to Bond (instead of just killing him outright). The story does well to maintain its tension in the second half and left me genuinely curious as to what Hellebore’s plan was (and what had become of his suspiciously absent brother). However, the eventual conclusion just wound up being too science fiction for a Bond story. I won’t give it away here in case you want to read the novel for yourself but, while Bond villains traditionally concern themselves with acts of terrorism, smuggling and espionage; Hellebore’s plan is a little more out there and pushes the boundaries of what is believable.

The novel is also incredibly slow burning, taking well over half of the story to get started. The early chapters in Eton are largely irrelevant to the later plot as, aside from George and his father, none of the other characters that Bond meets appear again after he has left for the holidays. This section of the novel is also bogged down with a lot of facts about the time period. While these are sometimes interesting and do add a bit of flavour to the setting, for the large part they are irrelevant and can easily be skimmed over. The facts about Eton and its truly bizarre rules aren’t important to the story in any way. Similarly, when Uncle Max teaches Bond how to drive, every aspect of this experience is described in detail (down to the internal workings of the car engine). While this did mirror the lengthy descriptions that characterised the original novels, I still found it very tedious as it slowed the story to a crawl.

In terms of characterisation, Bond proved to be remarkably bland. I think this is in part to the problem I noted above – if you strip the adult Bond of his notable characteristics there is really nothing left to him. Some of the other characters – such as Red and Aunt Charmian – were more interesting but really did not have much to do in the story as a large part of it was just Bond acting on his own. Uncle Max, in particular, was a curious character as he possessed a lot of the adult James Bond’s character flaws. In SilverFin, Bond was portrayed as not being overly fond of these traits – smoking had left Uncle Max with terminal cancer and life as spy in World War I had almost killed him – and expressed a desire to not follow in his uncle’s footsteps. It’ll be interesting to see what causes him to change his mind before adulthood.

However, the most disappointing character of the novel was Bond Girl – Wilder Lawless – who, despite possessing one of the best names of all time, barely appeared in the story. While I am kind of grateful that this meant that she never needed to be rescued from the villain, it also meant that she made no impression. She was quick to tell Bond that she was strong and independent, yet she never got a chance to prove that this was the case.

So, all in all, I was pretty disappointed by this story. While the second half of the book held my attention, the first half was slow and mostly filled with unimportant details. As an adaptation of James Bond, the novel was also fairly unsuccessful as it did not really show him developing any of the character traits that would be useful to him as a spy. I hope that the series picks up pace in its sequel as, based on this novel alone, I think that Alex Rider remains my favourite teenage spy.

Young Bond: SilverFin can be purchased as a Paperback, eBook and Audio Book on Amazon.co.uk

 

Young Bond will return in Blood Fever.

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4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Damian Gordon
    Jan 04, 2015 @ 12:25:51

    “If you ask anyone to name the character traits of Bond, they will talk about gambling, smoking, womanising, fast car chases and vodka martinis (shaken, not stirred). Obviously, as the Bond in this novel is not even old enough to drive, none of these things occur within SilverFin.” — did we read the same book? In the second half of the novel, Bond’s Uncle Max teaches him to drive his car, and Bond drives a truck through a gate and chased by another car and truck. And his Uncle Max smokes a lot, and there is gambling on the outcome of the Hellbourne Cup.

    Reply

    • Kim
      Jan 04, 2015 @ 13:22:40

      I think we might have been reading a different book. Although I’ll give to that Bond did occasionally drive a car, there was no real exhilaration here beyond when he crashes through the gate. He even gives up the truck shortly afterwards and continues his escape on foot. I don’t really remember a lot of gambling on the cup – the tension was maintained more through the pressure Hellebore placed on his son. My point was also that it’s not Bond, which it isn’t. Bond does not gamble on the cup, he doesn’t even think he’ll win. He simply wants to do well at the cross country sprint. Additionally, while Max smokes he is akso dying of lung cancer – Bond even states in seeing his Uncle’s condition that it puts him off ever smoking so in my mind it does not really count. Glad you evidently enjoyed this novel more than me though!

      Reply

  2. Damian Gordon
    Jan 04, 2015 @ 18:25:20

    I really enjoyed your review also very much, other than that the quote above, I wholeheartedly agree with almost everything else, and it is a really excellent (and well thought out) review, thanks.

    Reply

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