The Young Bond novels by Charlie Higson
Today, there’s a mega author event at Abingdon School’s Amey Theatre for over 600 local children – Charlie Higson, the author, actor and comedian (cough) is coming to talk to them, coinciding with the third installment of his zombie horror series, but more of that in another post…
Although I am a Bond fan, I’d not yet read any of Higson’s Young Bond series, despite having them all in my TBR. It was time – but would I would I recognise him? Would the books live up to the Fleming legacy?
Set between the wars, the first in the series, SilverFin, tells us a little about Bond’s parents – Swiss mother, Scottish father – a globe-trotting, adventure seeking pair who die in a mountain climbing accident, leaving young Bond in the care of his aunt Charmian.
A scene-setting prologue, like in the Bond films, shows a boy getting into trouble sneaking into a fenced and guarded estate in the Highlands to poach trout in the Silverfin lake. We don’t know if it’s Bond…
Then it shifts to the eleven year old Bond’s arrival at Eton, into an environment that will be the making of him, yet one he’ll never be entirely comfortable in. He soon gets into trouble with one of the school bullys, George Hellebore, an American whose father owns the Silverfin estate.
When the holidays come, Bond goes to Scotland to stay with his uncle Max, who is dying of cancer. Max and James bond (sorry!) strongly, and Max will introduce him to fishing and fast cars. Ere long though James will feel compelled to investigate strange goings on at the nearby Hellebore estate, and put his life in jeopardy when he discovers what’s going on in the castle and lake – think eels and evil scientists here. It’s a gritty story – young Bond will be bashed about a lot and need every ounce of his stamina to escape the clutches of the evil megalomaniac villain Hellebore. Although owing much to boys own type adventures, people do get hurt and die – some in particularly gruesome circumstances.
From the start, I felt I was in sure hands, because chapter one starts off:
The smell and noise and confusion of a hallway full of schoolboys can be quite awful at twenty past seven in the morning.
Which directly echoes the first Bond novel, Casino Royale, which begins:
The scent and smoke and sweat of a casino are nauseating at three in the morning.
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The second Young Bond novel, Blood Fever moves the action to the Med – Sardinia. Bond has another uncle who lives there, and plans to spend the summer with Victor after a school archaelogical trip on the island.
When Victor and James are invited to see the dirt-phobic, self-styled Count Ugo Carnifex’s new mountain complex, complete with funicular railway and aqueduct, Bond sees artworks which are strangely familiar, and it’s not long before he’s up to his neck in trouble with Sardinian bandits, secret societies and a Magyar pirate called Zoltan. Having less background to get through, the adventure gets going at breakneck pace and the villain’s demise is done in true Bond style. There’s also a girl in this one – called Amy Goodenough – what a great name! But he’s too young yet for a proper love interest.
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The adult Bond we all know was very recognisable in the youngster – a dislike of authority, happy to go it alone, resilient. He’s built very much like a young Sean Connery too with a lock of black hair that has a tendency to escape. The unhardened young Bond is someone you’d love to be your friend, as you know he’d stick up for you – he won’t develop his hardened veneer for years yet. Higson also echoes Fleming in the matters of sartorial elegance, we always know how Bond is dressed, and then there are the cars – they’re the business!
I really enjoyed both of these books – I felt they lived up to my expectations very well indeed. The plots had everything you’d expect from a Bond novel, minus the innuendo and women, and they made up for that with a double dose of enthusiasm. (SilverFin 8.5/10, Blood Fever 9/10)
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