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"You fascinate me, James Bond. You have the mark of death upon you. I can see it. Seven is also the number of death. I see you and I see the number seven and I see the figure of death. Death will walk by your side through your life..." Blood Fever is the second in the series of Young James Bond novels by Charlie Higson and was released in 2006. I approached these books with a slightly sniffy air as many of the post-Fleming Bond literary efforts have been fairly tedious and you expect these to be rather juvenile and somewhat in hock to Harry Potter given the target readership but they are actually good reads. In fact, I think in many ways Higson conveys a better understanding of the world of James Bond than John Gardner and Raymond Benson. If they were to ever try another series involving the adult Bond they could probably do a lot worse than let Higson have a crack at it. The first Young Bond novel SilverFin was a solid start to the series with capers in the Highlands of Scotland but this book is more exotic and has a more exciting story. Now that he has set up the basics of this new series, Higson has more room to move and seems to enjoy himself a lot here with a much greater sense of adventure and more action. There is a very big set-piece in the novel that wouldn't be out of place in an old James Bond film. The Young Bond books are set in the timeline depicted by the original Ian Fleming novels written in the 1950s. So these Young Bond novels are therefore set in the 1930s. The period atmosphere is enjoyable and certainly more charming than John Gardner trying to present Fleming's Bond in the 1980s driving a Saab.
In Blood Fever, James Bond (described as unusually tall with black hair - Barbara Broccoli please take note of that Bondian description when you select the next actor) is thirteen and a pupil at Eton where he is now starting to settle in after an uncertain start to life at this snooty establishment. Bond is now a member of a group of thrill seekers there known as The Danger Society but a mad scramble back to his room to avoid the society being detected leads him to a strange room with an eerie painting. He overhears people speaking in Latin. It appears there is another more sinister secret society operating from the school. Gasp. As his Aunt is going to be away for a while and can't look after him (lest we forget Bond is an orphan and has no parents), the embryonic secret agent tags along on the school trip to Sicily (I don't remember my school ever taking us to Sicily) where he has been given permission to visit his cousin Victor Delacroix. However, once in foreign climes, danger and adventure soon finds our young hero. He is poisoned and becomes embroiled in the nefarious schemes of Count Ugo Carnifex, a man who employs pirates and has a very grand scheme indeed up his sleeve. I like the way here that Higson wastes as little time as possible in getting straight into the intrigue and adventure and transplanting the action away from Eton (which however hard you try is always going to be somewhat twee and remote to the vast majority of modern readers). It also helps to avoid the shadow of the hugely successful Harry Potter series - which surely must have been one of the major reasons why the Fleming estate commissioned these books in the first place.
Nice prologue here by the way involving a pirate attack on a yacht in the middle of the Mediterranean by Zoltan the Magyar. A feisty young girl named Amy Goodenough is aboard and when the pirates murder her father she throws a knife at Zoltan and is taken prisoner. Amy will of course play a big role in the story later on. This book is a breezier read than SilverFin and rattles along nicely in undemanding fashion. I liked the Mediterranean setting and it gives it a bit of a Colonel Sun aura at times. Formidable villains, gunfights in caves, glittering blue seas. You get a real sense of progression in the character of James Bond too and Higson is becoming more believable in making us feel that the awkward teenager from SilverFin is slowly beginning to take on some of the characteristics that will lead to him becoming the blunt instrument of the British government in Fleming's novels. Bond is growing confident and stronger. He has a good scrap when forced to take part in a gladiatorial boxing match and enjoys the thrill of the fight. He also enjoys the adrenaline rush of the capers his secret society is involved in. Driving fast cars, jumping off cliffs, sticking their fingers in toasters. Well, maybe not the last one. Fleming's Bond suffered from boredom (Fleming had a particular word for this complaint which I've forgotten at the moment) and it was a vice he hated. He liked to feel alive and so it's perfectly in keeping with the character here the way the young Bond has a fondness for fast cars and cliff diving. The young Bond probably would be something of an athletic daredevil.
I also like the way that the strange dark world that James Bond lives in is already casting its shadows. James Bond lives in a world of death and danger and the young Bond gets a foretaste of what is to come over the course of the novel. The villains are rather good fun too and you can't really fault the ultimate scheme they have for lack of ambition. Count Ugo Carnifex even has his own lair and is a complete megalomaniac. I miss megalomania in the world of James Bond. It seems like all the villains are out for revenge now rather than up to anything specific. I'll go for the grand masterplan myself even if it is a bit daft. I don't quite know why some people seem to treat James Bond as if it's very serious. If it was half as serious as some people make out it would never have taken off in the first place because post-War readers had more than enough reality in their lives already. This book feels slightly more adult than the first one with a few damns and blasts and you also get a tentative stab at some teen friendly sadism and torture - sadism and torture a beloved staple of Fleming in his novels. Higson comes up with a very clever scene where Bond is tied down in the middle of a mosquito swamp. Blood Fever is a breezy, undemanding and enjoyable caper and I although I liked SilverFin quite a bit this is a more entertaining and ambitious book on the whole. Higson obviously did his research and his sense of location and detail is always very good. Highly recommended for younger readers and curious James Bond fans alike.
Blood Fever is the 2nd volume in Charlie Higson's Young Bond series. It is not necessary to have read the previous book. You could jump right in and enjoy this one every bit as much, as there is very little carryover from the previous book. Of course there are some of the same characters, but they play minor roles, except of course for the young Mr. Bond. This book does start off much faster than the previous book, and in this way may draw it's target audience ( pre teen - teenage boys) in better, as I know many boys do not have the patience to read through too much before it gets exciting. There is nothing in this book to spoil the previous book, so you can certainly read these out of order. I still prefer reading the books in chronological order though. In the first book James is much less confident, and doesn't quite seem to have found himself yet. The character has obviously matured a bit by this book, and found that he a definite taste for high adrenalin adventure. I think it is best to see the gradual development of this trait through the stories, and to do this, you will want to read them order.
As mentioned, the target audience for this book is boys and young men. Obviously I do not fall into this group. However this series really seems to have crossed the lines of young adult fiction, proving every bit as popular with adults as with children. If you enjoy James Bond, or other books in this genre, then I would certainly recommend you give this a try - regardless of age. I really enjoyed the book, and I am certain I would have absolutely loved this as an older child of perhaps 9+. I always liked boys books anyway, although I enjoyed a wide range of genres. I can't really give a boy's opinion on this as my sons are a bit too young, but I do think this would be wonderful for boys who are not into the Harry Potter type books. This would perfectly suit boys who want high octane adventures. The reading level is adult.
'Blood Fever' begins on a yacht, with a young girl, Amy Goodenough, lazily enjoying the afternoon sunshine and thinking she must be the luckiest girl alive. Coincidentally ( and there are a lot of huge coincidences in this book) her brother is a close friend and school mate of none other than James Bond. But as one might expect this girl's luck is about to change with a very unpleasant chain of events, which will include being kidnapped.
Meanwhile James is having difficulty adjusting to the boredom and day to day life at Eton. He has joined a club - known as the Danger Society which basically amounts to schoolboy thrill seeking, but soon James will find himself with all the danger he could hope for. On one of his nightly outings, he accidentally stumbles upon a meeting of members of a secret society. Through a long chain of coincidences, he ends up wrapped up in adventure while on a school trip in Sardinia, and then later on his holiday with a relative there. I am not giving a spoiler by telling you that this is the same group which has kidnapped his friends sister, as this is evident from the start of the book.
The book is fast paced and James plunges headlong from one dangerous situation to the next. I do not want to give away too much of the plot, as if you read this yourself you will want to discover each surprise on your own. In particular there is an excellent scene which involves the mosquitoes shown on the cover - but I have no intention of ruining this for anyone. All I will give away is that a wealthy Italian, who calls himself a count, is connected to the secret society, art thefts around the world, and to the disappearance of Amy Goodenough. This is not really a spoiler as you could get most of this from the back cover, and the connection with the girl is obvious early on.
This book has all the action and adventure one could hope for, and a very high level of violence. It also has a story of friendship intertwined with the main tale, and skulduggery with the more common definition. For those of you aware of the older Scottish word this most likely came from, sculduddery, there is absolutely none of that, which is the way I prefer my books.
File Note: Strictly Confidential - Authorised Personnel Only. Subject: James Bond. Description: Age 13. Dark hair; blue eyes; tall for age; surprisingly strong; fluent French, good German. Essential components: A Mediterranean mystery. One kidnapped girl - feisty, blond, superfit Amy Goodenough, sister of James' best friend Mark. One villainous pirate - Zoltan Magyr. Mysterious Latin-speaking men lurking near Eton. One fast car.