Solo by William Boyd

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Solo by William Boyd

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Category: Thrillers
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Sam Tyler
Reviewed by Sam Tyler
Summary: When Bond finds himself midst a Civil War with the task of ending it by any means necessary, he is made to question what his role truly is. Going solo is frowned upon by MI6, but it is what Bond will need to do to get the revenge he so wants to achieve.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 336 Date: September 2013
Publisher: Jonathan Cape
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 9780224097475

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Like Sherlock Holmes, Alice, or even the characters from the Bible, James Bond is no longer just the property of its original author. Ian Fleming may have had the imagination to create Bond, but since Casino Royale rolled onto the scene Bond has been a changing man who mimics the times he currently finds himself in. William Boyd’s Solo reverts back to Fleming’s original timeline and continues the story of that Bond, but is this a reflection of the past or today?

It is the perfect balance between the two that makes ‘Solo such an enjoyable read. This is a Bond who is clearly recognisable as that taken from Fleming’s own books. It is set in the early 70s as if Bond as come off the missions written by Fleming and is now setting out on another task for Her Majesty’s Secret Service. He is tasked with stopping a Civil War in the African country of Zanzarim. To do this, he must infiltrate the rebel base and do away, by any means necessary, with their talented leader.

Bond means different things to different people. Lovers of the original books know that he is not always the most pleasant of men; willing to manipulate, injure or even kill to get what he wants. However, those that have watched the Moore or Brosnan films may be more used to a character who quips his way through highflying adventures. The Bond of Solo is far more in keeping with the original Fleming Bond, than the character who has evolved on screen, even more so than Craig’s darker iteration. However, though the character evokes the past, the story is for today.

This is a book about war and whether the ends justify the means. The fictionalised country of Zanzarim is being torn to pieces by civil war and the rebels are being starved to death. Boyd does not flinch from the brutality of conflict and how it affects innocents. So much of the book's strength comes from the unflinching descriptions of starving children and Bond’s inability to help. Boyd also allows Bond to question what he is doing; is he fighting on the right side of this war? Is Bond merely a scalpel for the British Government to wield, slicing out what they want? There are undertones of modern conflicts such as Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria in the text.

Highbrow thinking and strong imagery is one thing, but this is a Bond book first and foremost. Fans of women being seduced, action and spy games need not worry as the book is also full of these too. There are some great action set pieces and being set in Africa means that the book has a different feel from some of the more glamorous settings Bond has shot people in.

There are some issues with the book. As someone used to the globetrotting adventures of the films, Solo felt a little small at times, lacking that epic sense of worldwide conflict. Also, the enemies were not overly memorable, to the point that one had an affliction that kept reminding me of Casino Royale.

Solo is a smaller scale James Bond novel and should not be criticised too heavily for this. Boyd is able to paint a good picture of Bond the man whilst still engaging the reader with fun action set pieces. It also does the author credit that he was able to deal with heavy material in a way that links the Bond of Fleming’s original vision, with a sociological problem we see today.

If this book appeals then you might also enjoy For Your Eyes Only: Ian Fleming and James Bond by Ben Macintyre and The Navigator (Numa Files) by Clive Cussler.

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