Monday, 25 January 2010

Review: DropZone by Andy McNab


Ethan Blake is seventeen and desperate to escape from his dead-end life. When he sees someone B.A.S.E. jump from the top of his block of flats, it changes the way he sees the world for ever. Soon, Ethan is caught up in the adrenaline-fuelled world of skydiving. He's a natural, so it's no surprise when he's invited to join an elite skydive team, but is he signing up for more than just jumping out of planes? The team's involved in covert military operations - missions that require a special kind of guts, missions so secret even MI5 denies all knowledge.

You had better fasten your seatbelts, for this book is one hell of a ride! In fact, after finishing it I almost felt like I needed a few hours to get my breath back. I say almost.... I was so wired by the non-stop action in the final scenes of the book that instead I popped the Wesley Snipes movie of the same name in my DVD player for another fix of extreme skydiving action. 

Ethan, the story's main character, comes from a troubled home where is mother has to endure a constant stream of verbal and physical abuse from his drunken father. Ethan himself, is not immune from this and is regularly informed that he is useless and his life will amount to nothing. Ethan is determined not to be like his father, but like many 17 year-olds he still has not found any direction in his life, and has no idea what he will do once he completes his A-Level studies in a year's time. One night he observes someone BASE jump (parachute) from the tower block where he lives, and so begins his adventure into the adrenalin-fuelled world of skydiving.

Everyone knows that before becoming an author Andy McNab was in the SAS. What you may not know is that during this time he learned to skydive as a member of the Air Troop, and has so far made over 1500 freefall jumps, at locations all over the world. Many fledging authors are advised to "write what you know"and whilst there is no way that Mr McNab can be described as 'fledgling' due to the number of books he has written for both the adult and YA markets, his books are always more the better because he writes from experience. I'm no skydiving expert, but speaking as a layman his descriptions of the skydiving scenes seem very realistic, and I am willing to believe that they are because of his first-hand knowledge of this activity.

This is the first book in a series, so in a similar vein to Robert Muchamore's The Recruit (first book in the CHERUB series), Mr McNab is using this story to set the scene for future books. This means, that despite the synopsis' promise of a Covert Operations team, it is only towards the end of the book that this part of the plot is fully revealed. The majority of the book focuses on Ethan's introduction to skydiving, his training and his bonding with the other members of the team. This is not to say that these earlier scenes are boring; in fact they are anything but. Andy McNab knows how to construct a thriller by varying the pace of his narrative; he knows where the quieter scenes are needed in order to help buld the tension to make the faster-paced scenes seem even more dynamic. 

The author also knows how to use quieter moments of the story to develop his characters. I felt Ethan was developed very well throughout the story, but the supporting characters not so. However, this is something we often see in the first book of a series which has to focus on the development of the main character; I expect we will learn a lot more about the others in future books. Despite not being fully developed, the characters in DropZone are certainly memorable, and the dialogue between them is sparkling and full of friendly banter. However, I guess in order to add more realism Mr McNab has spiced up this language with a few swear words in places. However, from experience I know that they are no worse than anything that can be heard on the average secondary school playground at breaktime. However, if you are not happy with your children reading dialogue like this then best you don't buy them this book. Similarly, some of the scenes towards the end of the book are fairly violent and not for younger readers, but this book will definitely appeal to boys (and many girls) aged 13+. If future DropZone books are as well written then Mr McNab may well have created a series to rival Muchamore's CHERUB.

DropZone is published as a hardcover edition in the UK by Doubleday on 4th February 2010. Thank you to the kind people at RHCB for sending me this copy to review.  

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