Viper's Nest by Gary Murray

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Viper's Nest by Gary Murray

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Category: Confident Readers
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: A reasonable, light, espionage and flying adventure for the under-tens comes with added online puzzles to further engage, but although the book has excellent production values, I think both it and the test need to be smarter.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Maybe
Pages: 128 Date: September 2008
Publisher: Top That! Publishing plc
ISBN: 978-1846666605

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Publishers for the young market are intent on creating books as part of more all-enveloping franchises, that take the reader back again and again to the bookshop, but also online, in order to provide further adventure, enjoyment and challenge. The last example I came across, The Maze of Bones (The 39 Clues) by Rick Riordan, did not work in my eyes. Can this series cater better to the more investigative young reader?

What we basically have is a spy adventure, with a lot of focus on airplanes and dangerous flying missions. There is a smattering of the lightest threat of torture, some close-quarters combat, and an urgent threat to the President of the USA that must be led up to – and that ends with a dangling cliff-hanger. The whole is presented as a report from a particular field agent, with a blunt, unliterary style of telling what he's enduring undercover, infiltrating the baddies.

The added extra is the wealth of encrypted messages and names he can give us with the power of his photographic memory. Luckily for us all the necessary codes are all in the back, and we are even told where to go online and feed the results in. It's not just our fictional hero who has to save the day.

To me this was actually a very lame IQ test interrupting a reasonable narrative. The book is a sequel to an original adventure, but seems perfectly self-contained (contained, that is, along with adverts for the companion volumes of espionage info and more stories). I cannot put myself into the shoes of an under-ten very easily any more, and had none to borrow, but I felt – certainly I hoped – the book would provide little challenge.

To me this is certainly a book for the parent to investigate in the bookshop, rather than purchase online. Not because there is anything at all objectionable about the action, narrative or vocabulary. Rather, because the glossary the parent will also come across near the end of the book will help her gauge the volume as regards her children's reading levels. To me, such terms being defined as 'bogus', 'Mayday', 'agent', does not show a demanding and therefore engaging read. The publishers declare this to be for the 7-ups.

The other reason is that the book, coming as it is completely and successfully styled in a field agent's journal format, complete with one of those wrap-around-diary-closing-elastic-ribbon-stretchy-things, comes packaged with a die-cut paper sheath that hardly survives being looked at hard. Some online companies – present company excepted – might struggle to get it to your child intact.

There will be a successful market for this book, as the high production values charm and excite while the narrative goes some way to getting a wish-fulfilment element as regards being a flying ace and working with shadowy government departments alongside the enemy into literature for the under-tens. I would still suggest a richer and more testing book could have been produced.

We would like to thank Quest for sending us a review copy.

The non-fiction equivalent for the same age-range, for this Christmas and indeed for way beyond that, is Spyology by Dugald Steer.

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