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Jimmy Coates: Revenge

Style: Average

Attitude: Some Care Needed → Fairly Positive

In Brief: Enjoyable action-packed adventure with a certain family warmth and a thought-provoking core. Three genetically-altered assassin-youngsters with issues of free will and responsibility. Political-military complexities between three regimes. Deceptions and subterfuges between supposed allies. The loyalty of Jimmy's family and friends in difficult situations. Brutal action sequences between the youngsters.

Cover of Jimmy Coates: Revenge

Author: Joe Craig

Series: Jimmy Coates

Publisher: HarperCollins

Published in: 2006

Age Range: Pre Teens+

Period: Near Future

Setting: New York

Genres:  AdventureFamilyFriendshipSciFiThought-provoking


Characters:

  • Jimmy is an 11-year-old genetically designed as an assassin. He's determined to shake off an inner compulsion to kill especially at the orders of the totalitarian Government's Secret Service.
  • Mitchell is a 13-year-old with the same programming as Jimmy. From a less stable background, he's disposed to work with the Secret Service, in particular to eliminate Jimmy.
  • Zafi Sauvage is the third youngster-assassin, brought about by the French. She's graceful, effective and highly intelligent, but Jimmy senses that she also is unhappy as a killer.
  • Felix is Jimmy's cheerful friend whose fooling is often a cover for his concern for Jimmy and a way to help him overcome his conditioning.

Synopsis:

Jimmy Coates, along with his family & friends, is hiding safely from the British Secret Service in New York's Chinatown until he starts to experience painful headaches leaving images in his head which he believes point to an assassination attempt against the American President. Meanwhile, the brothers of his sister's friend are hunting him, believing him to have killed their sister. The French Secret Service have sent their own young killer, Zafi, into play who's more than a match for Jimmy. The British Secret Service have kept the slightly older Mitchell in the field to hunt down Jimmy and Zafi. And the American CIA have their own agenda when the British Prime Minister, Ian Coates, meets the American President to ask for help in an attack on France.

Notes:

Before I plunge into a slightly deeper commentary on the book's message, let me say that it is an accessible and enjoyable addition to this series about a boy who has to come to terms with his ability as an efficient killer and his struggle to gain mastery over himself and his uncanny abilities.

As you might imagine from the synopsis above, the author's biggest problem (and it's a problem with a small “p”) is the sheer number of characters and plots he's juggling in the limited space the format affords. To his credit, he handles it with moderate flair leaving the reader in no real doubt as to the motives and actions of the main players. While many of the characters are black-or-white, there are some points, especially when the three young protagonists fight each other, when you're not entirely sure why they're at each other's throats. But I think that probably fits in with the author's intention, because neither are they.

Which brings us to the heart of the story, and the point which I believe sets this series apart from the run-of-the-mill Young Hero genre. Alex Rider, the Young James Bond, the The New Heroes and other action figures spend only a limited amount of time reflecting on their powers and abilities, and far more of it in action. Jimmy Coates is almost always reluctant to go into action except when, Matrix-style, his “programming” takes over and he becomes an machine built to injure and kill. At the heart of this story is his effort to overcome that programming and to stop himself killing even when even his human passions are driving him on. His true heroism, perhaps, is that not only does he struggle against his own inner demons, but he risks himself to help Zafi and Mitchell do the same.

Of course, young readers will live for the moments when Jimmy springs into action to take on intruders, foreign agents or his French counterpart. And, while he stops short of killing, he does inflict some serious damage on his opponents. It's understood that, superhero-style, his counterparts will shake off even serious injury quite quickly, but merely human agents are dispensed with brutally and efficiently. And there doesn't seem to be any aftershock, any realisation, once the super-Jimmy has relaxed, of the pain and damage he's caused albeit in self-defence. Which I think is something of a shame given the emphasis on the boy's humanity and the normality of the people closest to him.

His mother and sister and his friend Felix with his own parents are affectionately concerned for Jimmy, both because he's still an 11-year-old boy and because of the change in him when he succumbs to his inner conditioning. Felix, perennially cheerful and optimistic, is more than simply the wise-cracking friend who's offers levity to contrast with the hero's gravity. There's a lovely moment when Jimmy is persuaded to join Zafi, his French counterpart, as an assassin. Felix, realising that he can't possibly hold his friend back physically, forces Jimmy to think through the consequences of his decision, and ultimately to change his mind. Which decision, in spite of her hauteur, Zafi ultimately respects.

The youngsters' apparent maturity when on autopilot, especially that of the French girl, raises the interesting point as to whether we gain maturity through experience — which the youngsters lack — or knowledge they they somewhat unnaturally possess. There are plenty of examples of young people maturing quickly in times of need: wartime, the need to look after an ill parent and so on. To a certain extent we can believe in Jimmy's maturity because of what he's been through. Zafi Sauvage (whose name even sounds a little Bond-girlish) is perhaps a little less credible precisely because she's clearly more accomplished than her two English male counterparts. Perhaps significantly, Zafi appears to have sprung fully armed from her creator's mind while Jimmy and Mitchell have family backgrounds of some sort, thus anchoring each of them more firmly in reality.

Although the author hasn't indicated how long the series is to be, this book has the hallmarks of a midpoint story: the necessary complex of relationships which have gone before; the appearance on stage of pretty much every character still alive who has had or will have some part to play; and the poised-for-a-showdown feel which has the major players in their respective corners awaiting the start of the fight, and the innocent bystanders braced for action.

However the political plotlines ultimately resolve themselves, I hope that the remaining books in the series won't squander the thoughtful setup in a riot of increasingly self-possessed young assassins.

Themes:

  • Genetic modification of unborn children
  • Free will vs genetic disposition
  • The appearance of democracy
  • Experience vs Knowledge

Her eyes caught the light. The sight of her, so calm, almost smiling, with one gloved hand wrapped around the handle of her weapon, sent a ferocious anger through Jimmy's veins.

“Take control!” he yelled. “Of course it's your responsibility. Who else has their finger on the trigger?”

“Oh, Jimmy,” Zafi sighed, smiling sweetly. “That's just the last moment in a chain of events that started a long, long time ago. It's not my fault. It just happens to be my finger. My actions obey my programming, and my programming had nothing to do with me.”

Friday 4th May 2007