Review: Solo: A James Bond Novel by William Boyd

It is no secret that I am a huge Bond-geek, so it was a given that I pounced on this book the moment that I saw it on the library shelf. Admittedly, despite my love for all things Bond, it has been a while since I've read any Ian Fleming to compare Boyd's style to (the last Bond book I read was Sebastian Faulk's Devil May Care and I can't remember much about that either).

Blurb: "A seasoned veteran of the service, 007 is sent to single-handedly stop a civil war in the small West African nation of Zanzarim. Aided by a beautiful accomplice and hindered by the local militia, he undergoes a scarring experience which compels him to ignore M's orders in pursuit of his own brand of justice." 

The storyline is about as far from the glamourous world of casino's and villains that we have come to associate with the British icon as you can get, and war stories really aren't my kind of thing. Nevertheless, I decided to give it a go, for Bond's sake. In his Author's Note, Boyd states that he has taken notice of Bond's 'obituary' published in You Only Live Twice, and thus has set the novel in line with the Fleming canon, ignoring the modern setting of the films and Jeffrey Deaver's Carte Blanche. Putting Bond back where he belongs, in the case of this novel 1969, brings him back to life again; he is a 'veteran' in a rapidly changing world. The opening dream/flashback section at the beginning of the story to Bond's youth in the army caught my attention and provided an interesting insight into Bond's character, but the story only really gets going once Bond is on his revenge mission; just like in the films, there's a lot of not much going on for a few hundred pages until it all comes to a head, and I raced through the final chapters to see how it all ended.

With regard to the 'Bond Girls', I wish that Bryce had a bigger part in the story; she seemed like a genuine love interest and her scenes with Bond were among the most engaging parts of the book. The same cannot be said for Blessing who I had very little empathy for.

Jakobus Breed could easily be ranked alongside the best of the Bond villains with his facial disfigurement and penchant for gruesome trademark deaths, yet I couldn't help but feel cheated out of a final showdown between him and Bond, and whilst I appreciate the tension created by his disappearance I would have liked to find out whether or not he survived.

I read this book for Bond alone, and without him the plot holds much less appeal for me; I'm currently reading another of Boyd's works Waiting for Sunrise which I definitely prefer (watch this space for the review).

4/5 stars:  An interesting addition to the Bond franchise which is by no means badly written, but fans of the more gritty Daniel Craig films may appreciate the plot more than I did. Bond is back, literally with a vengeance.

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