Sep 10, 2008

By Royal Command: Judging A Book By Its Cover

Less than a week after it came out, I received my copy of Charlie Higson’s latest James Bond novel yesterday from Amazon.co.uk. (Not bad!) Never mind the story; I haven’t had a chance to get very far into it yet. As always, I’m going to start out by examining the book itself. By doing exactly what the adage warns against: judging it by its cover. Physically, By Royal Command is one satisfying book! I like this cover design even better than the shiny gold one for the last Young Bond, Hurricane Gold.

There is no dust jacket. Looking at pictures of it, I had imagined the book’s boards themselves to be faux leather, I guess because of how the shiny silver photographs. That would have been really cool (and would be a great idea for the eventual limited edition, assuming there is one), but what we do get is also cool. Like Hurricane Gold, the cover is glossy and shiny. Best of all, the striking silver, red and black Union Jack–as well as the Young Bond target design and some of the text–is embossed. It’s a pleasure to run your fingers across the cover and feel the subtle depressions.

The boards are also quite thick, and very sturdy, lending a truly satisfying heft to the book as a whole despite being printed on the same rough, lighter weight paper as all the Young Bonds. This time, though, that paper is the ideal choice, perfectly accented by blood-red page edges, like a Hymnal. For some reason, colored page edges have gone out of fashion, but By Royal Command is a welcome throwback. It reminds me of books I had to read for school–read by countless other students before me. Of the stacks I used to arrange so carefully when I worked summers in the best used bookstore in New England. It is the highest compliment when I say that By Royal Command will make a fantastic used book one day. I know there must be other bibliophiles out there who understand that it’s a good thing when I say I can smell the must already. This is the kind of volume that just touching it, thumbing through its scarlet-edged pages brings all the scents of all the wonderful used bookstores I’ve ever frequented flooding over me. All thanks to those wonderful red edges!

There are also red end papers adorned with a repeating Young Bond logo motif (not as striking as the glossy red poppy end papers of the UK Devil May Care, but still neat), and sparkly red faux stitching at the top and bottom of the inside spine–another nice touch. This volume clocks in at 354 pages, followed by acknowledgements (including one to The Young Bond Dossier’s John Cox–congratulations, John!) and advertisements for the SilverFin graphic novel and the Young Bond online game.

Like I say, I haven’t read it yet. The story may be rubbish, though judging from what Higson has delivered before, I highly doubt it. But from a purely tactile standpoint, this may be my favorite Bond book ever! It’s much, much more satisfying than the lightweight, cheap-feeling Devil May Care first edition, and also more satisfying than the pricey but discouragingly featherweight Higson limited editions. I just love picking it up! I keep doing that, weighing it in my hands. I know most of you probably think me certifiable after reading this post, but I also know that there are some readers and collectors who know exactly what I’m talking about. And if you’re one of them, with even the slightest interest in James Bond, this is a first edition worth tracking down! (Although it will be even more rewarding to track down amidst the musty stacks of an overstuffed used bookstore on some winding country road in twenty years...)

2 comments:

bish8 said...

I'm with you. The physical nature of a book is so important. I can't wait for my copy from Amazon UK.

zencat said...

I love these reviews, Tanner. Thank you. It IS a beauty. And I think you're going to love what's on the inside as well.