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The Times reviews Young Bond `By Royal Command`

13-Sep-2008 • Young Bond

Some heroes spring eternal, and never more so than at present, where a number of fictional adult pin-ups are having their youth explored. Sherlock Holmes, Indiana Jones and Superman “before they were famous” - the roll call seems endless. Two of the most enduring, James Bond and the Scarlet Pimpernel, have become part of this phenomenon, writes Amanda Craig for The Times.

I was not a fan of Charlie Higson's Young Bond series when it began, because the books seemed too much in the shadow of Anthony Horowitz's Alex Rider series (basically the same idea, but updated). But the great thing about pro-per writers is that they learn to fail better, and each book has grown into a complete and credible world. Watching Bond slowly turning from the innocent 13-year-old schoolboy for whom everything (including Eton) was new, to a battle-hardened 14-year-old has been a pleasure for anyone who appreciates real craft and graft. By Royal Command is the fifth and last of the Young Bond books and I am honestly sad to see them end, not least because we get to the matter touched upon in the obituary of Fleming's Bond, concerning his expulsion from school.

By Royal Command kicks off with James on a trip in the Tyrol with his classmates, where, shortly after he beats some Hitler Youth at cards and learns to ski, he finds himself saving the pompous Miles Langton-Herring, who gets drunk, lost and caught up in a small avalanche. While recovering at a clinic, he encounters a bandaged, delirious Graf von Schlick who babbles of danger to his cousin Jorge. Shortly after, James will encounter the Graf as a fellow guest, alongside King Edward and Mrs Simpson ...

The plot is ingeniously worked out, with the added amusement of spotting all Bond's future areas of expert-ise segueing into made-up details about real-life people of the 1930s. I love the descriptions of Eton and the way Higson captures the quintessential self-doubt under the charm. But it is in Bond's first desperate passion for the Irish maid, Roan, that he really springs into life. The descriptions of James's yearning for a young woman who we know is playing a darker game are beautifully written, with the kind of seriousness that teenage boys in the throes of first love deserve, and rarely get. Girls as well as boys will love it. For those reluctant to wave James goodbye, Silverfin: The Graphic Novel (above), the first of the Young Bond adaptations by the illustrator Kev Walker, is a bold and brilliant Manga-inspired treat, published next month.

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