When Colt Shore discovers the ordinary couple who raised him are not his parents and that he is, in fact, the son of two top secret agents, it starts a domino chain reaction that leads to him becoming an active FALCON (Free Alliance for the Lasting Cooperation of Nations) agent himself and teaming up with rock star Talya Ellis to rescue a group of Afghan teenagers from a human trafficking ring.
Just as it’s inevitable that every spy novel written from now until forever will be compared to the James Bond series, it’s also inevitable that every YA spy novel will be compared to Anthony Horowitz’s Alex Rider series. The beginning of Domino 29 reads like an Alex Rider/Harry Potter hybrid. You know, ordinary teenager who has spent his formative years being trained in useful spy skills (in this case, by his school, a sort of Hogwarts for spies) is catapulted into active service after discovering his parents were really spies, too. But stick with it, because after the initial set-up (and let’s face it, there aren’t that many ways to explain how a fifteen year old could possibly become a spy, so a bit of overlap with other teen spy novels here is unavoidable) Domino 29 really comes into its own.
Whereas the Alex Rider books existed in a stylised, James Bond-inspired reality of awesome gadgets, improbable situations and over-the-top villains with far-fetched plans for world domination (see, I told you it was inevitable that all spy novels get compared to the James Bond books), Domino 29 exists in a reality more akin to our own. For his first assignment, Colt is sent to Afghanistan to protect Thorne and Talya Ellis, the rock star children of journalist Sophie Ellis, from a potential kidnapping attempt while on a USO tour of the country. In response to articles she has written about Afghanistan, Sophie has recently been subject to threats against herself and her children. It sounds like a straight-forward mission, until Colt discovers that not only doesn’t Talya want to be protected (especially not by someone younger than herself), but she wants Colt to help her to rescue a young Afghan girl from a human trafficking ring. While it’s impossible for anyone to believe that any of the Alex Rider villains existed outside of the series’ universe, it’s an unfortunate fact that villains like those in Domino 29 really do exist, giving the book an overall feeling of realism throughout.
That’s not to say that this book is dreary or depressing, however. Far from it. Even though Domino 29 deals with some very serious topics, it still features all the fun and excitement you would expect from a YA spy novel: car chases, fights, extreme sports being used to get the hero into and out of difficult situations. The highlight of the book is two show-downs – one at Kehlsteinhaus (Eagle’s Nest), Hitler’s mountain retreat, and the other at Neuschwanstein Castle, the castle which inspired Disneyland’s Sleeping Beauty’s Castle – which make such good use to these locations that it wouldn’t surprise me if many readers added them to their lists of places to one day visit.
When Anthony Horowitz brought the Alex Rider series to an end back in 2011, a vacancy opened in the teen spy novel market which, until now, has yet to be adequately filled. For Alex Rider fans searching for something to fill that gap, or for those simply looking for a YA adventure novel with a bit more depth than usual, Domino 29 might just be the answer.
Verdict: Alex Rider meets Taken in this exciting new series from newcomer Axel Avian.
Agent Colt Shore: Domino 29 will be released on 15th May 2013.
Bonus – Come back on Monday when I will be presenting a Q & A session with Axel Avian, author of Agent Colt Shore: Domino 29.