Sep 3, 2008

Final Young Bond Novel, By Royal Command, Out Today In UK!

Today sees the UK release of the newest James Bond novel, the eagerly-awaited By Royal Command by Charlie Higson, the grand finale in his series of "Young Bond" adventures. Sadly, it won't be available in America for sometime to come (even the most recent book, Hurricane Gold, doesn't come out here until next year), but its UK release is a good occasion for me to essentially repost what I posted last year when Hurricane Gold came out over there, and once again shamelessly plug this series for any new readers I've picked up since then.

I’ve said it before, but I know that it needs to be said again and again (because I still hear Bond fans who haven’t read them complain that these aren’t "real" Bond books): these are among the very best of the post-Fleming continuation novels, and they're certainly better than the recent adult Bond pastiche, Devil May Care. (And truer to Fleming's character.) In my opinion, they are as "real" as Amis or Gardner or Benson. And unlike those latter two, who updated 007 to the eras in which they were writing, the Young Bond stories actually take place in Fleming’s continuity; they’re set in the 1930s, the boyhood era of the famous Cold Warrior who was in his prime in the Fifties and Sixties.

I can understand the argument that the basic premise (young James stumbling upon various fantastic adventures around the world) is a little hard to swallow, but is there any reader who actually swallows all of Fleming’s premises? Of course not! You accept them at face value (easy enough to do in the context of Bond’s world) and enjoy the ride. And that’s what you have to do with Higson’s books as well. Furthermore, he goes to great lengths to make the scenarios as believable as possible. The young James is not a junior secret agent like Alex Rider; he’s an Eton student (strictly adhering to what little Fleming established about his creation’s boyhood in You Only Live Twice; yes, he's due to be kicked out for "trouble with one of the other boys' maids" in By Royal Command!) who becomes embroiled in scenarios of large and small-scale intrigue rooted in the historical era.

And the novels are well-written. Very well-written. Higson is a gifted novelist who can both tell a story and turn a phrase. Just as Samantha Weinberg’s Moneypenny Diaries series turned out to be so much more than "007 for the Bridget Jones set," Higson’s books succeed far beyond their "James Bond by way of Harry Potter" premise. Ian Fleming Publications may have raised eyebrows with their rather transparent publishing schemes, but they deserve a lot of credit for picking the right authors to pull off such potentially disastrous set-ups. If you’re a Bond fan and you haven’t yet read his adventures as a young man, now is the time to start.

It’s also a good time to re-examine past coverage of Young Bond on the Double O Section:

And for up-to-the-minute coverage of all things Young Bond, look no further than the excellent Young Bond Dossier. YBD offers the most extensive reportage on the web about By Royal Command, including lots of photos of the super-snazzy, previously embargoed cover and coverage of the Young Bond web game, The Shadow War.

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