Friday 21 March 2014

Review: Urban Outlaws by Peter Jay Black

In a bunker hidden deep beneath London live five extraordinary kids: meet world-famous hacker Jack, gadget geek Charlie, free runner Slink, comms chief Obi and decoy diva Wren. They're not just friends; they're URBAN OUTLAWS. They outsmart London's crime gangs and hand out their dirty money through Random Acts of Kindness (R.A.K.s).

There is little I can add to the above publisher's blurb without spoiling the story (and I've cut the blurb short anyway as, having read the book, I feel that there is a spoiler within it). In simplest terms, this is a Robin Hood story for the high tech generation. Through a variety of different but similar circumstances, five kids have chosen to live outside the law, and use their various talents to rob the corrupt, ultra-rich criminal classes and share this new wealth among the needy and under privileged.

The book opens with the Outlaws about to start their latest heist, the plan being to steal huge amounts of money from Benito Del Sarto, one of the country's biggest dealers of illegal arms. As they escape from the scene of their crime they stumble onto something that surveillance and computer expert Obi believes is massive - the existence of an advanced quantum computer, and piece of equipment that many in the tech community believe is only an urban myth. Suddenly the team find themselves way out of their depth, as they fight to gain possession of an item that, if it exists and falls into the wrong hands, could have severe implications on a global scale.

Forget the Robin Hood allegory, this is Leverage for 9+ kids and I loved it! Leverage is one of my favourite TV shows - I love the chemistry that exists between the characters, with each one bringing a different skill to the party, and this is exactly what Urban Outlaws does. Yes, suspension of disbelief will be an essential requirement when reading this book, and the cynical among you should just p*** off right now and go hunt for your inner child before picking this book up. Seriously, if books like this had been around when I was a kid I may never have left my home except to go reluctantly to school.

This is one of those books that you will have to prise from kids' hands to stop them reading (although shame on you for even contemplating such a heinous act). I certainly refused to do anything until I had finished it, and read it from cover to cover in a single sitting. However, it is a fairly quick read as almost every chapter is full of great action sequences, peril for our team of heroes and great uses of high tech gadgets, so readers will find themselves flying through the story at a frenetic and almost heart-bursting pace.

This is a book for every kind of kid - the sporty ones will love Slink, the free-runner; the tech geeks will love Jack, Charlie and Obi; the couch potatoes will love Obi and the action junkies will love all of them; there are great male characters and great female characters, with even Wren, the youngest and newest member of the team, having her moment (although I really hope she will get more of a chance to shine in future books). Hell, I'm over 40 and I really, really wanted to be one of the team so I can only imagine how excited younger readers will get at the thought of having adventures like these.

My thanks go to the fab people at Bloomsbury for sending me a copy to read. You can find out a little more about Urban Outlaws and author Peter Jay Black at