silverfin.jpg SilverFin
By Charlie Higson

Review of Book
SilverFin is written in three main parts. In addition to the actual story we have a prologue. During the prologue a boy attempts to catch a legendary fish at Loch SilverFin, a lake in Scotland. This prologue is a cliff-hanger - whatever becomes of the nameless boy - we will get to know that much later. To put it in a nutshell this book for young readers tries to explain in an entertaining and yet believable way how a 13 year-old boy gradually develops the first character traits that define the gown-up James Bond we all know. It is mainly an adventure book, and one gets quite tangled up in the story telling. What I personally felt was the fact that the story is quite dark and there aren't many light or funny moments in it. Contrary to the Artemis Fowl series The Young James Bond series is taking itself far more serious. Basically it works on two levels: one for the young reader who has the chance to become totally involved in James Bond's brave actions and the other for the grown-up reader who knows Ian Fleming's Bond by heart. For them it is a kind of paper chase game, finding the clues to what makes Bond tick deep inside. This game is good fun especially for insiders.

Part One: Eton College - it's not easy being green
James Bond is new here, quite new. He doesn't know anybody and he doesn't like the place called Eton nor its unwritten rules. Lucky for the orphaned small boy, he finds a good friend in Pritpal, a boy from India and the son of a maharajah. The two become good friends and live together in the dorms. Bond also gets to know George Hellebore, an American bully two years older than James. George's father, Lord Randolph Hellebore is an important sponsor for Eton, but he's also an armament dealer who sold weapons to various countries after World War I. As we will get to learn later Lord Hellebore knew Bond's deceased father, Andrew Bond. Lord Hellebore arrives at Eton to direct and host a tournament cup ("Hellebore Cup") in which actually no-one really likes to take part. The cup consists of three competitions; shooting, swimming, and running. James Bond wins in cross country running. During that competition Lord Hellebore attempts to help his son. He tries to cheat so that he could win the tournament. Bond watches George closely taking a shortcut a first time and decides to follow George the next time, which allows him to take first place being the superior runner. George Hellebore wins the second place in the cup overall, which is unacceptable by his father's standards. Lord Hellebore is convinced that only winners are the ones who are worthy of living, taking or accepting second best isn't his thing at all.

Part Two: Scotland - cosy vacation time - or not?
James Bond's Easter break promises the comfort of his aunt Charmain who by all standards is a modern woman. James travels to Scotland to meet up with her who is visiting Bond's ailing uncle, Max. Charmain and Max are sister and brother of Bond's father, Andrew. We get to listen to the story of James' parents untimely and accidental death. While travelling to Scotland, Bond gets to know an older boy named "Red" Kelly. He is travelling to the same place in search for his missing cousin, Alfie - who seemed to have disappeared into nowhere. Red is worried and tries to find out what happened to Alfie. At his uncle's place Bond learns how to drive a car. Max tells James that he was a spy during World War I. Lord Randolph Hellebore owns a large stretch of land nearby that includes Loch SilverFin. Red suspects that Alfie got lost on Hellebore's estate. Both are trying to observe the castle and meet a strange man there. They encounter Mike Moran ("the meatpacker"), a Pinkerton's detective from New York City sent to investigate Lord Randolph Hellebore. Hellebore's ex-wife who suspects Lord Randolph of having killed his brother, her lover, Algar has sent him there. Days later the meatpacker is missing. James and Red decide to infiltrate the Hellebore estate and finally attempt to gain access to the castle and reveal the secrets it seems to hide.

Part Three: The Castle - learning how to play the game
As the both are trying to get into the castle, Red has an accident and is unable to continue to accompany James. James, however, manages to enter the castle. After taking a good look around James Bond is captured. When Bond regains consciousness he find himself being interrogated by Lord Hellebore. He explains to James that he and his brother Algar set out to create better and stronger soldiers by manipulating the endocrine system. Because its difficult to find humans to test on, Algar tested the first "SilverFin serum" on himself. Initially it worked, however, it later failed and Algar was physically transformed into an indescribable creature. Hellebore even tests his vaccine on his own son. Lord Hellebore reveals that he killed Alfie, because he tested the SilverFin serum on him. Kelly couldn't handle the side effects and died. Later Bond is treated with the SilverFin serum and locked in a cell. James knows full well that he has to escape from that cell or that his other option would be a slow and painful death - or becoming a creature like Algar. He makes several attempts to escape the cell and finally succeeds. He flees from the estate only to return shortly after that. George Hellebore surprisingly changes sides and acts as an ally to destroy Lord Randolph's lab. The two are later confronted by Lord Hellebore who intends to kill them both. It all leads to the big finale were Lord Hellebore and his brother Alfie fight with each other, both are killed in that last narrative climax. Bond goes unconscious for several days due to the SilverFin serum, which as we learn later doesn't seem to have harmed him at all. When Bond regains consciousness he learns that George moved back to America to be with his mother and that his own uncle Max had died. He returns to Eton and suddenly has the nerves to confront the older bullies - he will never be their victim again.

Naturally this Young Bond book sticks to the narrative rules we all know (but of course with some missing ingredients as this is a book for young listeners): The basic elements of a great Fleming Bond book are as follows…

  • M gives a mission to Bond. (In this one they start with James finding out about a danger that might change the world as we know it).
  • Bond meets the villain that acts almost civilized but there's always something crazy (and incredibly wealthy) about him.
  • The villain reveals himself (ohh he's evil, right).
  • Bond upsets the villain's plans in some way - or the villain upsets Bond's plans (why the heck doesn't he just go away then).
  • The girl and a combatant show up (sometimes in personal union, sometimes ehhh not).
  • Bond gets close to the villain (it is getting hotter).
  • The villain captures Bond (no good).
  • Villain tortures Bond (worse).
  • Bond beats the villain and his henchmen (goodie).
  • Bond recovers from his injuries and gets friendly with the girl, then loses her (well, eh, OK since we got to have more stories, no happy endings here. A happily married Bond would definitely be the end of the series. OK it must be enough that the world has been saved once more - no favours for superheroes - it is their job, right).

Yes, we've been expecting you Mr. Bond.

SilverFin is the first novel in the Young Bond series that depicts Ian Fleming's super-spy James Bond as a teenager in the 1930s. It was written by Charlie Higson (who will be writing five books for this series) and released in the UK on March 3, 2005. The U.S. edition was released on April 27, 2005, however this edition is said to be edited. The edit removed descriptions that were considered too racy for young readers. One such example includes a description of Wilder Lawless' legs during a tussle between herself and Bond.

Fun: Wilder Lawless who by now rightfully claims the status of being the "first Bond Girl ever", owns a horse. His name is Martini. Yep: "Shaken, not stirred".

More fun: Fleming always had a good sense of giving his figures proverbial names so they phonetically sound evil or good. Take Randolph Hellebore for instance; yes of course it should mean something like "hell born". Or his Indian friend Pritpal, who takes James under his wing. Pritpal originally means: God, the loving caretaker, but the ending Pal say it all… and well Wilder Lawless - what do we make of that? Ok she's not May Day, Mary Goodnight nor Plenty O'Toole, but she is in their name tradition. And she is lawless and wild.

SilverFin's success triggered a mobile game published by PlayerOne on January 5, 2006. The game features 3 locations, 15 levels, and a variety of enemies that the player must avoid. A graphic novel adaptation of SilverFin is still in the works and set for a release in 2006.

OK one you might not actually agree with but: M usually gives the adult James Bond a mission. What do we get to learn here? His uncle Max was a spy and he tells James about his life as an agent, he teaches James to drive a car and gives him some advice which actually helps James to survive this adventure.

Because Ian Fleming never explicitly said when James Bond was born, Ian Fleming Publications and Charlie Higson randomly chose the year 1920 as his birth year.

SilverFin begins with a similar opening to Ian Fleming's Casino Royale. Fleming: "The scent and smoke and sweat of a casino are nauseating at three in the morning" Higson: "The smell and noise and confusion of a hallway full of schoolboys can be quite awful at twenty past seven in the morning."

Bond's Aunt Charmain drives an identical Bentley to one Bond drives in Casino Royale and in subsequent books. Bond also inherits his Uncle's 1.5 litre Bamford & Martin Sidevalve Short Chassis Tourer. Bamford & Martin later became Aston Martin.

Nat's Reading
This one was a pleasure to do, no doubt about it and you can feel that throughout this book. Doing Bond for the first time must have been fun, but speaking him as a 13 year-old boy, not so sure of himself - as a matter of fact quite frightened in the beginning - that is a feast and you can hear it. Now this isn't your usual feel-good type of novel for older teen listeners. There's a lot of pain creeping around and you can feel that James Bond isn't a happy-go-lucky kind of a guy. Nat does give a good and thoughtful insight to a boy who has lost his parents not too long ago and who actually misses them like nothing else in the world. He also evokes the notion that James basically is a very intelligent, multicultural character, who feels somehow handicapped because he is surrounded by sometimes ignorant teachers and stupid pupils - it feels as if he was been forced to go the Eton (and that it is actually beneath his intellectual standard). He doesn't like the isolation there and he has no or little sympathy for small-minded people. Nat emphasises this trait without making him arrogant and he also makes it clear that this boy hasn't even thought about coming of age yet. James is unsure of what to do or how to act and what to say but he knows who he IS. The way Nat narrates this little scene makes it all too clear and it gives me a big smile each time I listen to it:

A man stood there glaring at him and, despite the fact that he was short, shorter even than some of the boys, he has an air of self-importance about him.
"Yes, sir?"
"What's your name, boy?"
"Bond, James Bond."
"James Bond - sir."
"Yes. Sorry Sir."

Nat relishes in the pleasure to narrate all characters, including women, girls, local Scottish boys and elderly men, an American detective - you name them. They are all very believable and good fun. No doubt about it, listening to Nat I am completely convinced that he could well play Max, the elderly man with lung cancer in a movie as well as the Pinkerton detective - well no - he sounded like a really ugly guy. But a nice one, too. And that's the beauty of it: Nat makes you believe in each character he narrates - and guess what - the movie image doesn't distract you from this perfect vocal illusion. A lovely piece of art.

Interesting Links
Vistit The Young Bond Site
Listen to a longer interview online
Read more about the series and Charlie Higson

SilverFin: Young Bond Book One
Charlie Higson
Publisher: Listening Library (Audio); Unabridged edition (April 11, 2006)
ISBN: 0307284379


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