Publisher: Piccadilly Press
Publication date – 12 July 2018
From a veteran author of young adult fiction comes this brilliant spy thriller that introduces a younger audience to the joys of modern espionage.
Kieron Mellor and his best friend, Sam, are typical teenagers living the ‘greeb’ lifestyle in Newcastle, England, with their biggest problem revolving around how to get tickets to the next rock show. But when they witness a man being kidnapped in their local mall, they are thrust into the world of covert espionage and a plot to unleash untold destruction on the world. Noticing that the kidnapped man has dropped a set of glasses and an earpiece, Kieron picks them up, only to discover that they are part of a high tech virtual reality kit that can provide the user with a database of information about anything they see. They also connect Kieron to Bex, a secret agent on mission in Mumbai who is in desperate need of his help.
Bex’s handler, the man who was kidnapped, was using the technology currently in Kieron’s possession to remotely assist Bex with her mission. Bex was observing a deal for information about nuclear weapons, but the disappearance of her handler resulted in her losing her target. With no other options, Bex is forced to utilize Kieron and Sam’s help in order to complete her mission and stop an act of mass destruction. However, the Newcastle teens have problems of their own; a fanatical right-wing extremist group and a mole inside Bex’s organisation are hunting them for the missing glasses, and they have no intention of leaving any witnesses alive.
Agent Without License is the first book in Lane’s AWOL series of young adult spy thrillers. The second novel in this series, Last Safe Moment, is already set to be released later this year and will continue to follow the characters introduced in this first book. Lane already has significant experience writing novels for a younger audience, with eight books in his bestselling Young Sherlock Holmes series, as well as his Lost Worlds and Crusoe Adventures books. Other works from Lane include his science fiction based Netherspace series and several books set in the Dr Who extended universe.
The AWOL series is aimed towards a younger generation of reader and has been advertised for children in the 9-12 age range. I felt that this book is an ideal read for that demographic, and it reminded me of some of the books that really caught my imagination when I was that age, including the Artemis Fowl and Alex Ryder novels. While there is some violence and implied deaths within the storyline, it isn’t overly graphic and won’t traumatise the younger readers. That being said, the overarching spy storyline isn’t dumbed down, and its intended audience will enjoy the realism and the references to events, ideologies and prejudices that currently affecting the real world. There are also discussions about some mature themes, although nothing is too extreme or adult. These small inclusions will be appreciated by the younger audience, as they will enjoy seeing some of these mature issues which they are likely already aware of included in their fiction. Lane does make the obligatory attempts to tap into modern youth culture in order to appeal to his readers’ interests; fortunately, however, he does not go too overboard with his attempts like some authors do, and readers are not inundated with a flood of unnecessary pop culture references. The author has also included multiple examples of the two teen heroes outsmarting older antagonists. This is always a fun feature for the younger audience to enjoy, and these teen protagonists have some very inventive, and in some cases quite direct, solutions to the problems they encounter. Overall, Agent Without License will prove to be an excellent read for the audience in its suggest age range. Older readers will also have a blast with this book and enjoy the fantastic spy thriller elements.
For his AWOL series, Lane has leveraged his significant espionage experience to create intriguing novels with a sense of realism to their spy aspects. In Agent Without License, the author lays down a foundation of tradecraft and spy techniques for the reader to enjoy as his protagonists attempt to save the world. Lane explores the basics of spying in this book and provides information about current espionage agencies and how they impact on real world politics. As a result, this is a fun and informative introduction to the spy thriller genre, and the younger readers will appreciate the exciting and mature content of this story.
One of the best parts of Agent Without Licence is the advanced technology that the protagonists use to help complete their mission. This technology comes in the form of glasses and an ear piece, and is known as Augmented Reality Computer Capability (ARCC). The ARCC is essentially Google Glass on steroids, and allows the operator to access information on anything they, or the person they are connected to, can see or interact with. This is an awesome piece of fictional technology that sounds like an item espionage operatives could possibly already have access to. Watching the young protagonist, Keiron, become acquainted with and learn to operate the glasses is an enjoyable part of the story which plays in well with the book’s espionage elements. The information that Keiron obtains for himself and Bec is quiet interesting, and the ARCC technology provides them with threat analyses, escape routes, background history of the buildings they are going into, facial recognition and recording capabilities. This is a seriously cool part of the book, and the technology’s presentation and use is a great element that will make the readers eager for glasses like these to appear on the market.
Agent Without License contains two separate but connected storylines and alternates between the two different point of view characters in each chapter. One of the storylines focuses on Keiron in Newcastle, while the other follows Bex in India. These storylines overlap throughout the chapters, and the characters are in constant communication with each other. The different storylines are usually occurring at the same time, although Lane does occasionally move one storyline slightly ahead or behind to create some dramatic thrills. Some of the most intriguing scenes feature Kerion communicating information through the ARCC glasses to Bex. There is a fantastic interrogation sequence in which Bex uses the ARCC technology to stay in communication with Kerion as he provides her with the tools to crack her target and get the answers she is looking for. This breakup in storylines also helps highlight the differences in espionage ability between the trained operative, Bex, and the amateur but highly skilled teenagers, Kerion and Sam.
Andrew Lane has produced a wonderful and highly enjoyable novel that is a fresh and exciting take on the teenage spy book and an excellent gateway into the world of spy thrillers. Agent Without Licence is an ideal read for its intended younger demographic, while at the same time containing a range of mature story elements that will appeal to all ages. This is a fantastic first instalment in a great new series that is highly recommended for young readers looking for a great adventure story.