Wednesday 23 March 2011

Review: Agent 21 by Chris Ryan

When Zak Darke's parents die in an unexplained mass murder he's left alone in the world. That is until he's sought out by a mysterious man: ‘I work for a government agency,’ the man tells him. ‘You don’t need to know which one. Not yet. All you need to know is that we’ve had our eye on you. There’s a possibility you could help us in certain.... operational situations.’

Zak becomes Agent 21. What happened to the 20 agents before him he'll never know. What he does know is that his life is about to change for ever...
You are probably asking exactly the same question as I did when I first spotted this book: Does the world really need another book series about a teen secret agent? Since Anthony Horowitz's Stormbreaker was unleashed on the world there has been no shortage of books with a similar central character and theme; some of these have been great, some of them not so. Agent 21 is somewhere inbetween the two.

The story introduces us to Zak Darke, a teenager who siz months earlier lost both of his parents in what was possibly some kind of mass-murder or terrorist attack in Lagos. He is now living with his aunt, uncle (both resenting his presence) and his cousin Ellie, trying to get through each day, one at time. Everything is as normal as it can be for someone in Zak's situation, until he starts to get the uncomfortable feeling that he is being followed. He suspicions are soon proved all to real when he is approached by a man who claims to have information as to the real reason behind the deaths of Zak's parents, a man who has a proposal for him. Life for Zak will never be the same again.

Although the overall concept is not a new one, and as such many books in this genre follow a fairly standard formula, the ensuing plot is well paced and exciting enough to keep even seasoned fans of the genre interested. Zak is whisked off to a remote Scottish island for his initial training and introduction to other key members of this covert government department, and then once his preparation is complete it is off to Central America for Zak, with the task of infiltrating the family of Cesar Martinez, Mexico's biggest and most powerful drug lord. So begins a mission that will test Zak's new skills to their limits although as this book is the first in the series it is no spoiler to say that Zak survives the mission. However, he does so in a way that rarely seems improbable (and if you are reading books like this then you have obviously already decided to ignore the improbability of the government using teens as agents), and Chris Ryan makes it easy for us as readers to relate to the emotions he experiences as he risks life and limb for his country.   

Whilst not the greatest I have read in this genre, as the opener to a new series Agent 21 shows a lot of promise and I will certainly be wanting to read more about Zak Darke in the future. He is an interesting and flawed character, who is very much a teenager, albeit it one with some rather extreme skills now that he has been trained in special-ops. I would like to see more interaction between Zak and some of the other characters in future stories, perhaps with them all involved in a mission together, as they are very much in the background in this story.

Agent 21 was published by Red Fox back in January and my thanks go to the generous people at Random House for sending me a copy to review.