Meet Blade. But be careful. You might not like what you see. He's dangerous. He needs to be. Because there are people who want him dead.
It's dog eat dog in his world. Win or die. He thought he was safe. But now they've found out where he is. And they're coming.
Tim Bowler's Blade books have been around for a handful of years. The first book, Playing Dead, was first published back in 2008, followed by a further seven instalments over the next couple of years. I remember Playing Dead arriving in the school library - my librarian stopped me as I was passing through and, concerned about its early mention of knife crime, asked me if was suitable to be put on the shelves. I had a very quick read of the opening chapter and gave her the thumbs up but for some reason I never got around to reading it fully at the time. Now Oxford University Press have started to reissue the books, this time over four volumes, and they very kindly sent me a copy of the first, Enemies, to read and review.
All I can say is that I am disappointed that I did not continue to read Playing Dead back in 2008 as I would have spent the last four years recommending them to any teen reluctant reader who said they liked thrillers. If there was a checklist of elements that were guaranteed to suck a teen boy into a story this book would have a tick in every single box: a great protagonist that teens will easily identify with; a fast, very tightly plotted storyline; short chapters, most of which end in a way that pretty much force you to carry on reading; a very modern theme of youth crime, and how for some things can spiral out of control. Instead of closing libraries the government should be pulling disaffected kids into them and placing books like this into their hands.
The story is narrated by Blade, a fourteen year old with a a great deal of secrets in his past. As such, we know very little about Blade other than what he chooses to reveal as the story progresses, and herein lies the real magic of this story. Blade is such a believable character that even though I was a rather well behaved teenager, and many years ago to boot, I still found myself identifying with him, caring about him and fearing for him. I very quickly found myself desperately
wanting needing to know the back story behind this damaged young man. Why is he on the run? Who are the thugs hunting him down? How has he survived living alone on the streets for so long?
Blade's narration of the story is quite different from most books I have read in recent years. As a reader I really felt that Blade was talking to me personally, such is Tim Bowler's mastery of the first person narrative. Blade even goes so far as to refer to the reader as Bigeyes, as if he was telling his story out loud across a Big Mac and fries. He also uses a great deal of street talk and colloquialisms, which again will appeal to teen readers.
This book would make a great class reader for a group of lower ability teens as it would engage them, and also draw them into discussions about Blade's behaviour, his use of language, and the general themes of teen crime and homelessness. It is certainly one I will be recommending to the English teachers at my school.
Enemies was published back at the beginning of February, and the sequel, Flight, is due to be in shops in June. I feel though that I must reiterate that these are reissues of books that were earlier published with different titles so please double check before buying. Please come back tomorrow when I will be posting an short interview that Tim has very kindly done for The Book Zone.