Have you ever wondered how James Bond became 007? How the man became that intense, unknowable, international man of mystery? (And yes, I am currently picturing Daniel Craig in Skyfall, after he jumps into the moving train car and adjusts his shirt cuffs…. sigh…) Where was I? Oh. Right.
Charlie Higson has taken on the monumental task of telling us how a boy became the legend. And he does a GREAT job of it in the Young Bond series. Titles like Silverfin, Blood Fever and By Royal Command, to name just a few, evoke the mystery and intrigue of a classic Bond thriller.
Set pre-WWII, the novels set up a strong back story for the Fleming novels, far exceeding my expectations. I find that prequels can sometimes seem forced, but that doesn’t happen here. The series takes place over James’ years at Eton, beginning at age 13, right up until he is recruited by Her Majesty’s Secret Service in his late teens. There is the conflict with fellow students and authority, along with excellence in sport, all of which gives us a glimpse of the strength of his future personality.
Everything we already know about Bond is nicely set up: his likes and dislikes, love of family and loyalty to friends, his penchant for fast cars and beautiful women, and the experiences and details which forever shaped him into Fleming’s top spy.
Also included are the details that make a Bond story a Bond story: mad villians with their henchmen and their fiendish plans, (all with awesomely evil names like Count Ugo Carnifex and El Huracin and Graf von Schlick), crazy car chases, international subterfuge, and even the precursors to the “Bond girls”, independent and beautiful teenage girls, suitably named Wilder, Vendetta and Precious. (Unlike his future interactions with women in the movies and Fleming novels, all action is PG-13.)
The series was sanctioned by the Ian Fleming estate, so you know from page one that you are getting unadulterated Bond. The pacing is everything you expect from a Bond mystery, the action is detailed, and the character development perfect.
These are a must read for every Bond fan, as well as any teen, boy or girl, who dreams of international intrigue, and doesn’t mind a bit of death and gore. Well, more than a bit. But done with the elegance you expect from 007.
The Young Bond series is published by Puffin Books.