In 2004, James Bond literature fans all over the world were rocked by the announcement that their beloved fictional spy would be receiving the Harry Potter treatment: a new series of “Young Bond” novels would follow the escapades of a 13-year old Bond during his school days at Eton in the 1930s. The man chosen for the job was Charlie Higson, writer for such shows as “The Fast Show” and “Randall and Hopkirk” and frontman for the rock/pop band, The Higsons.
It was a bold, if shameless, move. Bond fans, both of his cinematic adventures and his written voyages, denounced the book, before it was even written, as shameless pandering and an all-around bad idea. However, the mainstream public, especially the target audience of early teenaged readers, thought otherwise. Thanks to an effective UK marketing campaign, Higson’s freshman Young Bond novel reached the number eight spot on The Booksellers bestselling children’s book list in the UK. Sales went on to reach 500,000 copies worldwide in November 2005.
I find that the first installment of any series, be it film or literature, is usually boring because it serves as the establishing piece for the successive installments and therefore is slower in pace and more extensive in detail so as to acclimate the viewer to a unique world of characters and plotlines. The initial entry of a series is also the first attempt at setting a tone and style for the entire run and is, many times, a little rough around the edges and in lack of a proven set of conventions and characters. This is true of SilverFin. It’s not necessarily boring, but it’s too adolescent a start to be charming. I was constantly reminded of the fact that it was a preteen’s novel, which, in all fairness, is to be expected, but it makes me wonder what Harry Potter novels offer that is so irresistible to both adults and young people.
Review (By Derek Shiekhi)
To me, SilverFin, although styled after Harry Potter, lacks cross-generational appeal. I can see why it was so popular to younger readers. James Bond is portrayed as a kid who doesn’t fit in and is picked on by others. Despite this, he has friends he can trust and be himself around and have fun with. What kid wouldn’t like somebody they can relate to? What’s more, the young James Bond has his own car at the age of 13, embarrasses the school bully, sneaks into a castle and battles a mad scientist! SilverFin was destined to appeal to preteens and their older counterparts, especially boys. To a person in their early 20s like me, however, SilverFin is the cause for many an eye roll. It’s an honest effort that is as true as possible to the limited information on Bond’s youth provided at the end of You Only Live Twice.
For instance, Bond’s aunt Charmian and uncle Max take him in as their ward when his parents die in a climbing accident. For some reason, though, the tongue-in-cheek nods to Bond’s future tastes and the childhood approximations of his later lifestyle rub me the wrong way. Some of these allusions include when Bond’s uncle Max gives him a Bamford and Martin (now known as Aston Martin) with which he learns to drive and the fact that his aunt, whom he looks up to, despises tea. That’s not to mention the heroine of the book, a young girl named Wilder Lawless, rides a horse named Martini. All of this may be cute to some, but I find myself scoffing at the thought of such blatant references. I guess it’s because I know the original, Fleming version of what Higson is referring to, however subtle the reference may or may not be.
Another chink in SilverFin's armor is the overly straightforward delivery of Hellebore’s plot to Bond. With Fleming’s villains, there was always a tension and a sense of surrealism about their monologues. Higson’s Hellebore just gives Bond a verbal roadmap and comes across as a big, blonde, afternoon cartoon bad guy. I will say, though, that Higson’s physical description of Hellebore is well-wrought – the gleaming blonde hair and mustache, the perfect white teeth that cage in a deadly, animal smell. Higson’s imagery in general is one of the redeeming elements of SilverFin and it made for a stimulating picture at times, such as when Hellebore’s goon McSawney was eaten alive by the SilverFin-enhanced pigs that he took so much pleasure in abusing.
Ultimately, I wasn’t expecting anything mind-blowing, so I was not terribly disappointed in SilverFin, but it is so obviously a novel for youth audiences, young men and women who have not yet read the genius of Fleming and are not ready for the grittier, bloodier, sexier adventures of an adult James Bond, that it can only be enjoyed by older readers if they are the hardest core James Bond fans.
SilverFin opens with a prologue in which a boy trying to catch a famous fish of the same name at Loch SilverFin is sucked under water, seemingly to his death by a mysterious force.
The main story starts at the first of three parts, “Eton,” with a 13 year old James Bond attending the school, where he befriends a variety of students, from Pritpal, an Indian boy and son of a maharajah, to Tommy Chong, a boy from Hong Kong with an extensive vocabulary of swear words. Bond also makes an enemy, George Hellebore, son of the American arms dealer Lord Randolph Hellebore, a major financial contributor to Eton and head of the Hellebore Cup, a triathlon of shooting, swimming, and running. After Bond bests him at cheating in the footrace, George Hellebore comes in second overall in the Hellebore Cup, much to the anger and disgust of his father.
What Happened (Spoiler Alert)
Bond travels to visit his aunt Charmian and uncle Max in Pett Bottom, Scotland in the story’s second part, “Scotland.” During the train ride, Bond remembers the day two years previously when his aunt told him his mother and father had been killed in a climbing accident in Aiguilles Rouges, France. He also meets an older boy, Red Kelley, who is on his way to help his family investigate the disappearance of his cousin Alfie, who disappeared while fishing on Loch SilverFin. Bond later discovers that Loch SilverFin is owned by Lord Randolph Hellebore himself.
The third and final part of SilverFin, “The Castle,” finds Bond and Kelley investigating Loch SilverFin and Hellebore’s castle. However, Bond must go forward by himself when Kelley falls out of a tree and breaks his leg. After a harrowing leap from a tree into one of Hellebore’s castle windows, Bond begins to look for clues to Alfie’s disappearance. He is soon captured and Hellebore reveals to him his secret plan: To create a force of super soldiers that possess the strength, endurance, and obedience of eels using the SilverFin serum. Alfie was just another casualty of Hellebore’s experiments. After being captured and administered the SilverFin serum, Alfie’s heart failed. Bond himself is given the serum and thrown into a holding cell. After loosening a floor grate, he escapes through the underground waterways of Hellebore’s castle and runs into Red Kelley on dry land.
They steal one of the lorries used by Hellebore’s staff and drive through the front gate of Hellebore’s property to freedom. While driving his car, Bond almost runs over Wilder Lawless, a local girl, who was out riding her horse, Martini. Bond decides to return to Hellebore’s castle to destroy the SilverFin serum and Hellebore’s research, but this time is joined by George Hellebore, who wants to stop his father’s lunatic quest. They succeed in their mission, torching all of the records and destroying all of the vials and test tubes in the labs only to be confronted by Randolph Hellebore at the end of a shotgun.
Bond and George Hellebore are saved by George’s uncle Algar, who was Randolph’s business partner before he subjected himself to an early trial of the drug and mutated into a grunting, deformed hulk. Algar and Randolph end up killing each other in the waters surrounding the castle. Soon after, Bond is hit hard with a lung infection and extreme exhaustion for ten days, during which his uncle Max succumbs to cancer and George Hellebore goes to America to live with his mother. Bond eventually returns to Eton where he is feared by his former bullies because of the hardened, danger-honed look in his eyes.