SilverFin – Young Bond #1


Author: Charlie Higson

Publication: Hyperion Books for Children, 2006

Pages: 352

Overall Rating: bth_45_zps06f87659[1]                        

Rating for Action: bth_4-star-rating_zps38e772a0[1]

Quantity of Action: bth_4-star-rating_zps38e772a0[1]

Age Category:  13+

Brief Summary: James Bond is a 13 year old boy just entering Eton, the most prestigious private school in England.   Within his first days at school he makes enemies with George Hellebore, a bully and the son of the fabulously wealthy Lord Randolph Hellebore.  George makes James’ life at Eton utterly miserable until the two finally find themselves pitted against each other in a school triathalon that pushes James to the limits of his endurance.

Not long after the triathalon, James travels to Scotland to spend the holidays with his Aunt Charmain and his Uncle Max, who is in the final stages of cancer.  Along the way, he meets up with a tough London street kid, Red Kelly, who is on his way to Scotland to search for his missing cousin, Alfie.

James takes an interest in the missing Alfie when he learns that the boy was last seen in the vicinity of Lord Hellebore’s castle.  He and Red make the fateful decision to try and break into Hellebore’s castle to search for clues about Alfie’s fate.  What James discovers inside Hellebore’s fortress will be more dangerous and terrible than anything he could ever have imagined, and will set him on the road to becoming the world’s most famous spy.

Age of Main Character: 13

What I Liked the Most: There are so many things to like about this book that it’s hard to know where to begin.  The action is incredible, and danger that James finds himself in almost beyond comprehension.  Higson does a wonderful job taking James’s natural curiosity and sense of justice and using it to drive him forward to the point where he makes the fateful decision to take on Lord Hellebore.

Everything about the novel feels accurate to the period, from tiny details about the cars that James and his family drive, to the rich and wonderful descriptions of life at Eton – a school that was first established in the early 1400’s and is steeped in traditions that most of us today would find incomprehensible.  Yet Higson does a masterful job of plunging us into that world and carrying us along with James as he struggles to adjust to his new life.

The book is filled with little details that help point the way towards the future James Bond we all know so well.  He even has the first Bond Girl – Wilder Lawless.  There’s nothing sexual about their relationship, but Lawless has the same fiery independence that is part and parcel of the Bond Girls seen in the movies.

Beyond Wilder, the book is simply chock full of vividly drawn characters.   There’s Meatpacker Malone, the Pinkerton detective, Cleek MacSawney, Lord Hellebore’s ape-like hunting guide, Peter Friend the cold German scientist, and of course Red Kelly.

What I Liked the Least: There’s very little to criticize in this book.  The only thing that really comes to mind is that Higson didn’t include enough about James’s parents.  There’s one scene where we learn about his life before Eton – growing up with his mother in Switzerland, his largely absent father, and how his parents died when he was eleven.  And there are one or two more references to them later in the book.  But Higson could have paid more attention to James’s early life and his feelings about the loss of his parents, especially when he’s face-to-face with death himself.  It seems like their death, and the near absence of his father while growing up, must have had a major impact on James’ life.

Along the same lines, James’s parents died in a mountain climbing accident, but that doesn’t seem to have made him afraid of heights or climbing.  There are two different occasions in the books when James has to climb – up a tall tree and down a well shaft.   If his parents really did die in a climbing accident that should have created a fear of heights in James, something which he would have had to confront over the course of the book.   When he first climbs a tall tree, shimmies out on to a narrow branch and leaps to a castle wall, all I could think was, his parent’s died in a climbing accident.  He should be absolutely terrified right now.

How Good was the Action?  Excellent.  Higson doesn’t hold back on placing James in truly left threatening situations where he must face up to powerful and vicious adults.  Among other things he’s chased by a deformed beast, has to escape from a prison cell and swim through a narrow, lightless underwater passage filled with carnivorous eels, and outrun a pack of armed men and dogs.   James doesn’t get into many actual fights – one or two, both of them short.  But the tension, especially when he escaping through the eel infested waters and running cross-country from a group of armed men, is razor sharp.

How Engaging was the Story?   Higson does a wonderful job of drawing us into James’s head and helping us to understand his thoughts and motivations, to get a handle on what drives him forward even in the face of death.  We learn about the death of his parents, are drawn into his relationship with his dying Uncle, and feel his struggle to fit into life at Eton.  James’s unlikely friendship with Red Kelly is absolutely real, and his ongoing conflict with George Hellebore drives the story forward.  This is one book that was impossible to put down.

Overall Assessment: This is a great read.  It’s such an engaging adventure story that you can enjoy it even if you’ve never seen a Bond movie in your life.  Of course, it’s the kind of book that’s going to have a special appeal to fans of the Bond movie franchise.  The first time someone asks James his name and you hear him say, “Bond.  James Bond,” it’s enough to send a little shiver up your spine.  I’d recommend this book to anyone who’s a fan of action/adventure novels.  But if you’re into the Bond movies, this is an absolute can’t miss read.

Profanity: Very little – a few scattered uses of the ‘H’ word and some low grade British profanity.

Sex: None.

Violence: Yes.  James is bullied pretty viciously by George Hellebore, he’s whipped and almost drowns.  There are a couple of people who are eaten by eels and another who is torn apart by pigs – though we don’t actually witness that happening.  This is a violent story.  That said the only place where the violence feels truly graphic is when one of the people in the story is eaten by eels.  There are definitely some very tense moments where violence takes place, but it never feels over the top or gratuitous.

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