Young James Bond is back in his most action-packed, explosive adventure yet.
Expelled from Eton and determined never to trust again, James Bond’s plans for a solitary summer are dashed by the discovery of a gruesome film reel – a reel someone is willing to kill for.
Travelling from the English countryside to Los Angeles, James finds himself caught up in a sinister plot of blackmail, murder and revenge that goes way beyond any Hollywood gangster movie.
His friends in danger, his life on the line, James must find a way out.
Or die trying.
The announcement that Steve Cole was to be the writer to continue the Young Bond series from where Charlie Higson left off with By Royal Command back in 2008 probably came as a surprise to many. After all, Steve is best known for the likes of Astrosaurs, Cows in Action and Slime Squad, his humorous chapter books for 7+ readers. However, Middle Grade and YA enthusiasts will also know that he is a dab hand at writing action thrillers (the Jonah Wish trilogy, The Hunting trilogy, Tripwire), and we mustn't forget the ten or so Doctor Who novels that he has also penned.
We may have had to wait six years for the Young Bond series to be continued, but there is certainly no six year gap in the storyline. Cole's Shoot to Kill picks up the story very soon after the events of By Royal Command, with James Bond expelled from Eton. Bond obsessives will know that following his exclusion from Eton, Bond was sent to Fettes College, Edinburgh however, Steve Cole has decided to add another chapter to Bon'd life by making him a temporary student at Dartington Hall, a progressive school situated in the Devon countryside. However, due to an arrangement between his Aunt Charmian and Dartington's Headteacher, Gillian de Vries, James spends less than a fortnight at the school (which, of course, is long enough for him to make a few enemies and witness a nasty murder) before he finds himself heading across the Atlantic in a giant passenger airship. The journey is not uneventful, but it is in Los Angeles that the action really begins to kick in, as Bond finds himself up against the mob.
In Shoot to Kill Steve Cole has achieved what some might have thought to be a very difficult task. He has taken the young character developed by Charlie Higson through five traumatic adventures, treated that character and thus Higson with respect and also managed to flesh him out further and move the Bond story forward. In some ways it is also an improvement on the Higson books (of which I am a huge fan, despite their occasional flaws), some of which at times suffered from unbelievable plotlines and were not always as fast-paced as I would have preferred. The action in Shoot to Kill is fairly relentless, although not at the expense of plot. Some of the violence is a little more grisly than you might find in other books for this age group, but not to the point where it is unnecessarily gratuitous. It certainly isn't a level of violence that will cause nightmares, and I know many readers of this age who will find it tame in comparison to the computer games they play (despite being many years below the PEGI age rating).
I have seen a minority of reviewers criticise the story and action in Shoot to Kill by comparing the book and its main character to the CHERUB books by Robert Muchamore and Anthony Horowitz's Alex Rider series. In my opinion this is an unfair criticism as the character of Alex Rider and the various protagonists of the CHERUB series were not written as younger versions of an fully established and iconic adult character. Cole had to be true to the man that Bond will become, and this means that his young Bond has to show some of the character traits of the adult version, many of which have been developed in the previous Higson books. the young James Bond we see now prefers to be a solitary person, and he finds it difficult to put his full trust in others. At times he is almost a not particularly likeable character, but remember that he will turn into the James Bond of Flemings books (a ruthless killer who is also at times rather unlikeable), and not the smooth, one-liner-delivering character from the movie franchise.
Based on this book, I am confident in saying that the future of Young Bond is in good hands. Full marks to Steve Cole for adding another exciting and believable chapter to the life of the iconic spy. I should add that you do not need to have read the Higson Young Bond books in order to enjoy Shoot to Kill, but I would certainly recommend them to young readers who enjoy action/adventure stories.