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This was another book recommendation from Amazon - and once again dooyoo had a category for it, but no reviews, so I decided to rectify this as quickly as possible.
Agent 21 is written by Chris Ryan. Prior to taking up writing, he spent ten years in the SAS, involved in overt and covert operations. He was the sole escapee of a mission gone bad in Iraq, was in charge of the sniper team in Northern Ireland, and later in charge of training and selection for SAS recruits, so he does have an insiders knowledge of of government organisations. He has written both fiction and non fiction books, but this series appears to be written for younger readers, and I feel would best be classed as young adult.
Although Ryan obviously has years of military experience, there is very limited use of military jargon in this book. His writing has a smooth easy flow to it. I do believe this was written for a teenage audience, and Ryan does not assume any prior knowledge of military operations. If anything is mentioned, it is briefly and effortlessly explained, so that any reader could fully understand the storyline, without feeling like he is talking down to the reader at any point.
The main character in this book is 13 year old Zac. This book obviously draws inspiration from the ideas of Muchamore and Horowitz, but it is very much a unique and separate story line. The whole story has a rather unbelievable premise of MI6 using children as undercover agents - in this case in extremely dangerous situations, but once you get past that idea, it is well written and believable. Top secret gadgets are really at a minimum here, training will become Zac's most valuable asset. The characters are well developed and very believable. I especially liked the fact that Zac was not a fearless hero. He was terrified in many parts - as any sensible person would be - but overcame fear.
Unlike Muchamore's book, Ryan's series has only one child agent. This is more believable, a single agent could be trained and kept secret much more easily than a couple of hundred. But this also means that this book lacks the social interactions of Muchamore's series. There is a sense of loneliness to Ryan's young hero, and I feel that this book will appeal to young readers who relate to a loner. There is also a feeling of authenticity to this,. An undercover agent would live a lonely life, his contacts are all based on false premises and he really can not afford to get close to anyone.
This book begins with the murder of Zac's parents. He is left with relatives who view him as a burden, with a fairly dark and depressing life until he finds himself being followed by a stranger. The strangers knows quite a lot about Zac - and claims to know something about the the death of his parents as well. He makes Zac an offer - to come and work for a government agency " never mind which one". If he agrees, he will tell Zac something about his parents - eventually.
It wouldn't have made much of a story if Zac had said " no thanks" and just gone back to school, so I think it is fair enough to say that he does eventually accept this offer, spend a considerable time training on a remote Scottish island ( What better place for the training of heroes? Anyone remember where Cu Chulainn trained?). He is then sent on his first mission. To infiltrate the home of a brutal Mexican drugs lord, using the man's son to gain entry. This places Zac - or Henry as he is now known in an incredibly dangerous position, but it also places him in the position of being asked to befriend and betray another child. I do not wish to risk any spoilers, so I won't go into more detail, but I will say the book is full of realistic action, but Zac will find intelligence and training to be his greatest assets. There are also some interesting references to Mexican culture. The author has spent a fair amount of time in Mexico, and he does seem familiar with the landscape he is describing.
As an adult I am not in the target audience for this book. I am also not the target sex. I do feel this book is written more for boys than girls and I don't think this attract the number of female readers that Muchamore's books did. Personally, I do like Muchamore's books best, as I like the social interactions as well. I can see where many teenage boys will prefer this book though, and if I am looking at this as future reading material for my sons, I can only give this 5 stars. As for myself - I really do not like typical chick -lit and I did enjoy this book. I will be buying more books from this author - although I haven't decided whether to choose another fiction title or one of his non fiction books yet - and if I do choose fiction - it will most likely be one of the more adult titles. If you like romance and interpersonal relationships in books - this is not for you. If however you enjoy action, intrigue and a bit of suspense, this might be just the thing, and while it is written to a younger audience, I think many adults will enjoy it as well. If I were rating this purely for adults I would give this a high 4 star rating, but taking into consideration the fact that this really is a wonderful book to get boys reading - I am going with 5 stars.
There is nothing in this book that I feel would be an issue for younger readers. There is no sex and there are no swear words. There is violence - and some directed at children but there is not overly graphic details of this. I would have no problem with my 7 year old reading this, but I don't think it is written to appeal to such a young a child and feel this would best suit ages 10+. I feel this book would be perfect for boys who have outgrown or read everything in the Alex Rider series - and especially useful for boys with a real interest in the military or espionage.