Spy High


Author: A.J. Butcher

Publication: Atom Books, 2003

Pages: 224

Overall Rating: bth_25_zps13f4f4eb[1]                       

Rating for Action: bth_35_zps7a173504[1]

Quantity of Action: bth_5-star-rating_zps467d5332[1]

Age Category:  13+

Brief Summary: Set sometime in the not-so-distant future, Deveraux Academy is a school for the rich and powerful.  But it’s no ordinary prep school.  Deveraux specializes in training spies.  Some of their newest students, the members of Bond team, are having a rough time.  They keep failing their training simulations, and if they don’t get their act together fast they’ risk of failing out of Deveraux.  The team’s senior instructor, Elmore Grant, decides they need something special to bring them together as a team.  He sends them on a camping trip.  But the beautiful forest he leaves them in is no ordinary place, and before the members of Bond team know what’s happened they’re up to their necks in danger and fighting for their very lives.

Age of Main Character: There are actually six main characters – Ben, Jake, Lori, Jennifer, Eddie, and Cally – but the average age seems to be about 15 or 16

What I Liked the Most: The action is pretty hot and heavy.  The first chapter starts off with a bang and it rarely lets up.  Plus there is a lot of cool futuristic technology.

What I Liked the Least: There is NO character development to speak of.  All the characters, from the heroes to the villains, are paper thin and the dialogue is often so clichéd it hurts.   For example, when Bond team is trying to take down one of the villains –Stromfeld – he says, “Children.  They send children to distract me…It will be a cold day in hell before impudent puppies such as yourselves can disturb the plans of Stromfeld.”

The members of Bond team also seem to be so full of snappy comebacks and one liners that they burst out in even the most terrifying circumstances, when the average person would be hard put to remember their own name.  At one point, three of the agents – Ben, Lori, and Jennifer – have been captured by Doctor Frankenstein.  Yes, that’s correct, Doctor Frankenstein.   They’re surrounded by some of his mutant creations –human sized ants with teeth and tongues.  They believe their friends are dead and can only assume they’ll be next.  So when Frankenstein decides to show them his facility, what does Ben says? – “What is this, the grand tour?  I hope there’s a souvenir shop.”  Those kinds of witty comebacks pepper the book, and after a while they get pretty tiresome.

How Good was the Action?  There’s plenty of action, but the clichés and poor writing kept distracting me so much that it was hard to enjoy.  For example, at one point Eddie is trying to escape from some of Frankenstein’s guards on a SkyBike – think the speeder bikes used on forest world of Endor in Return of the Jedi.  He’s outmaneuvered all but one of them and here’s what Butcher writes – “Doesn’t this guy ever give up? [thought Eddie] To be fair, Frankenstein’s other lackeys hadn’t exactly given up either.  It was just a little difficult to continue the chase when your SkyBike had crashed, and you were left vainly shaking your fist after your intended victim.”

Every time I started to get into the action I’d come across something like that, a line just hackneyed enough to distract me from what I’d been reading.  So even though the action got fairly intense at times, I never got into it.

How Engaging was the Story?   Not very.  The main characters were so underdeveloped that I didn’t really care what happened to them, and the villains felt so completely over the top that they weren’t particularly scary.  While the action scenes were well written, they lost a lot of their power simply because I didn’t care whether the heroes won or lost.

Overall Assessment: This is a poorly written book, full of stock characters and clichéd dialogue.  The action, while good at times, is largely ruined by poor writing.  And the main characters are so weak and underdeveloped that I never really cared whether they lived or died.  If all you want is a bit of action and you don’t really mind the bad writing, it might be an okay read.  But in general, I’d have to say that this is one book to skip.

Profanity: None

Sex: None.  There’s a bit of flirting, and Ben, Jake, and Eddie, all seem to be on a constant quest to hook up with the girls, but nothing physical ever comes of it.

Violence: Yes.  People die and there are battles and fist fights, but the violence generally has a sort of unreal and distant quality to it.

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