At the beginning of the summer I was asked by the people at Corgi books if I would like to receive a copy of Wolf Squadron, the third books in Craig Simpson's Special Operations series. It was with a little embarrassment that I had to admit that I had not yet read either of the first two books in the series, and within days the generous people at Corgi had sent me the full set to review. As I already had a huge To Be Read pile I spaced these books out over the summer, although after reading the first one I was sorely tempted to read them all in one go. These books are brilliant and I wish I had discovered them sooner. We have all three in the school library but I had never picked one up, and it makes me wonder how many other great books are out there that I have missed out on due to lack of time.
The Special Operations series is set during World War II, not an era that has been particularly fashionable in kids and YA literature in recent years, but with these books Craig Simpson should be the man to change that. "What about Robert Muchamore's Henderson Boys series?" I hear you ask. Whilst I enjoyed those, in my opinion these are even better than the Henderson Boys.
The Special Operations books follow the adventures of three 16-year old Norwegians - Finn Gunnersen, Loki Larson and Freya Haukelid - who have been recruited by the historically factual Special Operations Executive (S.O.E.), an Top Secret organisation that was created in the fight against the Nazis during World War II. This isn't like CHERUB, H.I.V.E. or any of those other organisations using young people such as in the Alex Rider books - S.O.E. really existed and young people actually played an important part in the resistance movements of many of the occupied countries in Europe at that time. My knowledge of this era is not great so I do not know whether or not S.O.E. actually used agents as young as 16, but the WWII setting instantly makes these stories far more believable than any of those others I just mentioned. The reality aspect of the stories is also helped by the fact that the group's adventures are all based on real life events from this period, which Craig Simpson gives further details about in the postscript in each of the books.
There have been three books released so far on this series: Dogfight, Death Ray and Wolf Squadron.
Finn Gunnersen and his best friend, Loki, are mad about planes. Finn wants to follow in the footsteps of his father and become a pilot. But with the Second World War raging on and German soldiers invading his Norwegian village, flying isn't the only thing on his mind. The Resistance movement is making plans to reveal top-secret information to the British, and Finn and Loki are desperate to lend a hand. But, talking about risking your lives and actually doing it are two different things. Courage and determination takes them beyond Norwegian shores for more action-packed, full-throttle adventures. So get ready for take-off!
Finn Gunnersen and his friends Loki and Freya have been recruited by the enigmatic 'X' as special agents, working for the Allies. Acting on information from the French resistance they are dispatched on Operation Death Ray to aid in the sabotage of vital German technology. But with suspected double agents in their midst and their loved ones held by the Gestapo, it's not just their own lives at risk if they fail...In a world at war, everyone has their part to play.
Finn Gunnersen and his friends Loki and Freya are behind enemy lines once more and at the heart of a dangerous Special Ops mission. A mole has struck at the heart of HQ and is jeopardizing the entire resistance network in Holland. Meanwhile Finn's charged with providing a escort for a British Double agent in possession of critical Nazi invasion plans but with his father missing in action, he has a personal score to settle with the enemy...
As I have already mentioned, I think these books are brilliant and boys of 11+ will love them. Younger boys who are confident readers will also find them hugely enjoyable, but sometimes the content may be a little violent for them. The events of the time period the books are set in have given the author a great starting point for his books, and as a talented author he has so far created three tightly plotted stories that twist and turn throughout. This was a time when your best friend or neighbour could easily turn out to be a Nazi collaborator and you had to be careful about who you trusted, and saying the wrong thing to the wrong person could find you and your friends and family facing a firing squad. The Nazis did not look sympathetically on members of the resistance or British spies, and so the tension levels in these books are almost unbearable at times - cliched though the concept is, these books are very difficult to put down.
Craig Simpson has also created a very believable cast of characters, both primary and secondary. The three Norwegian teenagers each have their own reasons for putting their lives on the line for S.O.E., although for all three of them the main driving motivation is to see the Nazis expelled from Europe so they can return to a free Norway. However, it is their individual reasons for fighting that often cause the team problems, especially where Finn is concerned as he still grieves for his father who left Norway at the start of the war and went down in battle whilst flying a Spitfire for the Allies. Loki and Freya are also something of an item, and as such the decisions that Loki makes in some scenes are not always for the good of the mission - he is after all a teenager and emotions play an important part in the actions of him and his friends.
If you enjoy fast-paced thrillers with great characters then these really are the books for you. The agents of the Special Operations Executive played a huge part throughout the whole of the war, and were key players in the D-Day landings in 1944. Wolf Squadron takes place in the summer of 1941, so Craig Simpson has plenty of time and events that he can use to write more books in the series - it would be great to see Finn, Loki and Freya take part in the Allied invasion that became a turning point of the whole war. If you are interested in finding out more about Craig, his books and the real life Special Operations Executive then his website is well worth a visit.