'On His Majesty's Secret Service' by Charlie Higson (2023)

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  • emtiememtiem SurreyPosts: 5,790MI6 Agent
    edited May 2023

    With Amazon letting everyone down (I cancelled mine too) and Waterstones not seeming to have many copies to each shop, I wonder if they've struggled to get enough printed in the time. It's quite a challenge to set yourself as a new publication house.

  • Silhouette ManSilhouette Man The last refuge of a scoundrelPosts: 8,747MI6 Agent

    I'd not considered that but it could well be a factor though you'd hope they'd have prepared well enough in advance. Still, there can be unforeseen problems when venturing into new territory such as publishing the books you own the literary copyright in by yourself without the assistance of a more established publishing house.

    "The tough man of the world. The Secret Agent. The man who was only a silhouette." - Ian Fleming, Moonraker (1955).
  • caractacus pottscaractacus potts Orbital communicator, level 10Posts: 4,002MI6 Agent

    has anybody seen if the book is on sale in Canadian bookstores?

  • chrisno1chrisno1 LondonPosts: 3,393MI6 Agent

    It doesn't take long to read...

    I will reproduce this in the LAST BOOK READ thread...

    Review of ON HIS MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE by Charlie Higson (2023)

    I enjoyed Charlie Higson’s Young Bond series of novels. They catered for a market and demonstrated a formulaic method of writing which appreciated the anticipations of its audience. Having served that apprenticeship, Higson, much like his Young Bond character, has been delivered the poisoned golden chalice and asked by Ian Fleming Publications to pen the first James Bond novel set during the reign of King Charles III. He’s been constrained by time and theme, but the result is a cheering effort, while not being entirely a success.

    I suppose measuring a novel – or a novella, the book is extremely short at about 50,000 words – against the weight of its chief character’s history is a trifle unfair, and perhaps we shouldn’t, but the prose doesn’t grab and incentivise the reader as Ian Fleming’s books did. Nor is it as chiselled around detail as John Gardner’s earliest, most effective, pieces. It is comprehensive and thoroughly researched, and has a certain world-weary, empire on the slide rhetoric which is familiar from Fleming, but it lacks the florid, eye-popping panache brought by a journalist’s eye: the minutia which made Fleming’s prose so fascinatingly rare. Nor is the author as obsessed with landscape and mechanics as Gardner. Higson shows moments of dexterity, but these tend to stick out rather than blend into the narrative. He needs time to adjust to the adult form and provide something more than scenes and dialogue which might have fallen out of a Daniel Craig movie.

    Case in point is the marvellous Fleming-esque section in Budapest where Bond observes the city and evades his pursuers, musing on the past, present and future which segues neatly into a rooftop confrontation as acerbic and rough edged as anything we’ve seen in the last three films, or even worse perhaps the gutter-trash exploits of Jason Statham, Vin Diesel and Sylvester Stallone, all attitude fuelled baddies, modernisms and smart-arse speeches, exemplified by the three word description “Headphones. Testosterone. Toblerone.”


    Higson's created a decent heroine, an Icelandic beauty with an unpronounceable name and “witch’s eyes”, but his villain is purely comic book, an amalgamation of Boris Johnson, the Marquis of Bath and Brian Blessed, bedecked in ermine robes and brandishing goblets of fire. I’m exaggerating. The King Alfred connection has some interest, so too the anti-establishment nature of Athelstan’s disparate terror network, its operatives a concoction of far right groups and terror organisations who read like Nigel Farage, Donald Trump and Piers Morgan on speed. He’s got the political frenzy about right, and doesn’t labour it as Kingsley Amis might have done – in fact he sends it up. Some readers may not appreciate the satirical slant he’s giving it.


    The overblown hideout at Szalkai Castle in the Hungarian mountains had familiarity written all over it, but it was fun to have the chief baddie residing in broad daylight. The infiltration of this terror elite was too easily achieved – a necessity of writing time, I suspect – and its was disappointing Bond is aided by secondary and third [actually thirty] agents who appear not to be under the same suspicion as he is. The obsession of writers and filmmakers these days to insist everyone of importance must be an equal to Bond gets as boring as the idea he rescues damsels in distress all the time. Again, I can give the benefit of doubt as the work was hurried into production specifically for the coronation.


    I can’t though forgive some lapses. M randomly calls OO7 by his first name, which would never happen, and worse on page 4 Higson refers to OO7 as “James”, temporarily forgetting this isn’t a Young Bond novel. An editor really should have picked these errors up. The appallingly crass shovelling in of “all the time in the world” seems as if the author wants to tell us the phrase is being overused, but it also lowers the tone of his own work.  


    On a purely personal note, I hate italics and capitals in novels: I can read and understand emphasis, I don’t need to be told when to do so, thank you. If you want to stress something, Mr Higson, be creative not lazy. The ending coda is borrowed from John Gardner’s Scorpius and feels as equally unlikely. The plot, slim as it is, has holes bigger than the fifty-pence piece Bond uses as a weapon of mass destruction.

    Did I enjoy it? Well, yes, I think I did. The book isn’t a long read and judgement on Charlie Higson as an adult Bond writer should come after he’s penned something more substantial. It certainly ticks most of the boxes in terms of action and intrigue, and it is also more amusing, but the nature of its production holds back the depth and detail required for it to be completely accomplished. What I do appreciate is Higson’s ability to update James Bond to 2023 without active reference to Fleming, Gardner et al or the films, as Benson was prone to do. This is a reimagining of Fleming’s thirty-five year old James Bond dropped directly into the current state of the nation without the baggage of the past and it is refreshing to find, with a few contemporary tweaks, that he fits almost seamlessly into a modern lifestyle of still stuffy offices, bustling city streets, classy restaurants, slender tender arms and extravagant villain’s lairs just as before, while the same stresses, fears and strains, loyalties and certainties inhabit this James Bond, a man we know and recognise.

    An optimistic thumbs up.        

  • Silhouette ManSilhouette Man The last refuge of a scoundrelPosts: 8,747MI6 Agent
    edited May 2023

    My copy of OHM2S arrived from eBay this afternoon. Looking forward to reading it. It's the most exciting literary Bond news I've heard for a good few years, being a lover of the traditional Fleming-Amis-Gardner-Benson contemporary set continuity in particular.


    "The tough man of the world. The Secret Agent. The man who was only a silhouette." - Ian Fleming, Moonraker (1955).
  • The Domino EffectThe Domino Effect Posts: 3,632MI6 Agent

    I'm running into this with Amazon all the time now. It's far more common for any pre-release order I place with them not to ship on the day of release as they promised and for them to then say that they will advise me of the new date when they have it. Meanwhile, other online booksellers - like Blackwells and Waterstones - still manage to ship on release date, so I think this is an Amazon thing. Their interest in books in general seems to be waning and far more are now fulfilled by third partners ("Amazon affiliates") than by Amazon. They're just not reliable for books any more.


    As for OHMSS2, Waterstones shipped mine one week before release. Goldsboro have not yet shipped my signed copy, however.

  • Napoleon PluralNapoleon Plural LondonPosts: 10,363MI6 Agent

    Sold out in Waterstone's Epsom I found - highly popular.

    "This is where we leave you Mr Bond."

    Roger Moore 1927-2017
  • Shady TreeShady Tree London, UKPosts: 2,981MI6 Agent

    I cancelled my amazon order because of the revised shipping date and am waiting for a Goldsboro delivery of an authentically signed copy. I haven't got to Waterstones so for me, in the end, this hasn't been a Coronation weekend read.

    Critics and material I don't need. I haven't changed my act in 53 years.
  • emtiememtiem SurreyPosts: 5,790MI6 Agent
    edited May 2023

    That’s a shame: I found it to be proper Bank Holiday Bond fun- it ticks all the boxes you want from a 007 story, I think; even in its compressed form. It even has a couple of movie-style ‘Bond moments’- you can imagine the theme playing in! Bond is nicely sardonic and dry in this, I could really picture Craig doing it: the dialogue is really nicely done and not overwritten.

    Plus you can feel Higson really getting some stuff off his chest about the nature of the baddie!

    Just a really enjoyable read, and so quick to get through I’ll definitely be giving it another spin.

  • Silhouette ManSilhouette Man The last refuge of a scoundrelPosts: 8,747MI6 Agent
    edited May 2023

    I haven't had a chance to look in my local Waterstones yet to check for availability of this book there. It's in a pretty provincial town so there may not be very many. I ordered mine from eBay due to issues with entering my card on Amazon. I was able to use Google Pay on eBay which was good. It arrived on Saturday, which I was happy enough about. I've also ordered a signed edition from IFP but it's still yet to arrive.

    Update: No copies to be found in my local Waterstones.

    "The tough man of the world. The Secret Agent. The man who was only a silhouette." - Ian Fleming, Moonraker (1955).
  • Smithers500Smithers500 Spectre IslandPosts: 1,345MI6 Agent

    Got my signed copy delivered from IFP Saturday morning, just as Charles was en route to the coronation.

    Now waiting for my signed copy from Goldsboro, which I understood would ship post coronation.

    Japanese proverb say, "Bird never make nest in bare tree".
  • emtiememtiem SurreyPosts: 5,790MI6 Agent

    Nice! I didn’t realise IFP were doing them: is that direct from them?

  • Smithers500Smithers500 Spectre IslandPosts: 1,345MI6 Agent

    Yes, I saw it on Twitter, limited to 250 signed copies. There’s nothing to distinguish it as a special edition though, and it’s not numbered.

    Japanese proverb say, "Bird never make nest in bare tree".
  • emtiememtiem SurreyPosts: 5,790MI6 Agent

    That's cool; I didn't realise they had a shop. All gone now so you've got yourself a collectible!

  • Miles MesservyMiles Messervy Posts: 1,762MI6 Agent
    edited May 2023

    Good review, as always. I don’t have much to add. This book reminded me a lot of John Gardner’s Bond novels in terms of villain, plot, and overall approach, although both Bond and the girl are perhaps a bit more interesting in Higson’s hands. And it was (mercifully) missing the Gardner-era staple of M attempting to deceive Bond about the true nature of his assignment via a 3-chapter-long briefing. Otherwise, you could probably convince me that Gardner wrote this.

  • Silhouette ManSilhouette Man The last refuge of a scoundrelPosts: 8,747MI6 Agent

    The signed edition I ordered from IFP arrived today. I'll be keeping this as a collector's edition on my Bond bookshelf of signed first editions. I still need to start reading my standard edition of OHM2S. I hope to start reading it tonight.


    "The tough man of the world. The Secret Agent. The man who was only a silhouette." - Ian Fleming, Moonraker (1955).
  • Silhouette ManSilhouette Man The last refuge of a scoundrelPosts: 8,747MI6 Agent
    edited May 2023

    Although it may not please everyone I must say that's music to my ears. It's good to see the John Gardner style of Bond continuation novel back in vogue again, after Gardner's novels were largely brushed under the carpet (along with Benson's novels) since IFP ended the trend of contemporary set Bonds in 2003. When I heard about the plot of a rival heir to the throne who lives in a Disney-style place and is linked up with extreme nationalists John Gardner immediately came to mind. Writing a Bond novel inspired by the events and headlines of the day was something Gardner excelled at and Higson seems to have followed this tried and tested method. I'm looking forward to reading this novel more than ever now. 😊

    "The tough man of the world. The Secret Agent. The man who was only a silhouette." - Ian Fleming, Moonraker (1955).
  • emtiememtiem SurreyPosts: 5,790MI6 Agent

    It is ridiculously up-to-date. He even mentions the King cancelling his trip to France due to the pension protests, and that only happened about a month ago!

  • Silhouette ManSilhouette Man The last refuge of a scoundrelPosts: 8,747MI6 Agent

    I just started it this evening and have read the first two chapters. It's slightly written and it just breezes along very nicely. There have been a few little humorous reminders so far that this is the classic literary Bond meeting the modern world of 2023. It's very entertaining. It'll be interesting to see where it goes from here but this is a great start.

    "The tough man of the world. The Secret Agent. The man who was only a silhouette." - Ian Fleming, Moonraker (1955).
  • BarbelBarbel ScotlandPosts: 36,890Chief of Staff

    Finally!


  • Silhouette ManSilhouette Man The last refuge of a scoundrelPosts: 8,747MI6 Agent

    Zero Minus Ten!

    I tried to buy one of those Goldsboro editions but I had issues with my card so I had to opt for the IFP one instead.

    "The tough man of the world. The Secret Agent. The man who was only a silhouette." - Ian Fleming, Moonraker (1955).
  • BarbelBarbel ScotlandPosts: 36,890Chief of Staff

    They took their time sending it, but I'm glad it's here now.

  • Silhouette ManSilhouette Man The last refuge of a scoundrelPosts: 8,747MI6 Agent
    "The tough man of the world. The Secret Agent. The man who was only a silhouette." - Ian Fleming, Moonraker (1955).
  • BarbelBarbel ScotlandPosts: 36,890Chief of Staff

    Yes, indeed. I'm going to read it today.

  • emtiememtiem SurreyPosts: 5,790MI6 Agent
    edited May 2023

    #177 here 😁

    Was yours in an absolutely enormous box? Let us know what you think of the book.

  • BarbelBarbel ScotlandPosts: 36,890Chief of Staff

    Yes, a huge box with much bubble wrap. You too, then? I've been keeping out of this thread to avoid spoilers.

  • Silhouette ManSilhouette Man The last refuge of a scoundrelPosts: 8,747MI6 Agent
    edited May 2023

    Ah, I see. I'm sure the wait was frustrating for you. I bought the standard edition from eBay and later the signed edition (limited to 250 copies) direct from IFP. I hope you enjoy reading it. I read the first two chapters last night and hope to read more of it tonight.

    "The tough man of the world. The Secret Agent. The man who was only a silhouette." - Ian Fleming, Moonraker (1955).
  • emtiememtiem SurreyPosts: 5,790MI6 Agent
    edited May 2023

    Yes; I'm quite grateful for all that bubble wrap! That'll come in handy 😁

    I don't think we've been too spoilery but very wise to not dip in. Like Silhouette Man, I got a burner copy for reading and this signed one to keep nice.

    The printed signature in this copy together with the real one reminds me of a few years back when I friend and I were going to a Roger Moore signing on the South Bank and my friend realised that he didn't have a copy of Roger's book for him to get signed; so we rushed around to the nearest bookshop which happily had plenty- but they were all already signed by Roger! So in the end he had to get one of those, and has what I imagine to be a very rare double signed edition of Roger's My Word Is My Bond, with two signatures on consecutive pages!

  • BarbelBarbel ScotlandPosts: 36,890Chief of Staff

    What you might call Double Double - O Seven, perhaps?

    (Now halfway through, taking a short break)

  • BarbelBarbel ScotlandPosts: 36,890Chief of Staff
    edited May 2023

    Finished it about 90 minutes ago. Rapid pace, plenty references to Fleming (OHMSS, of course, but others too) and more surprisingly Gardner.

    Lots of topical material - the coronation is central, but plenty of contemporary people and events get a mention.

    One slight criticism - it could have done with another proofreading but given the timescale involved that's easily overlooked.

    More, please, Mr Higson.


    Edit - How the hell do you pronounce the leading lady's name?

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