Style: Average

Attitude: Some Care Needed → Unobjectionable

In Brief: Standard military thriller requiring little interference from the reader's intelligence. Amoral treatment of human beings as expendable pawns. Elena & Danny's loyalty to each other. Brief crude language.

Cover of Avenger

Author: Andy McNab

Series: Boy Soldier

Publisher: Doubleday

Published in: 2006

Age Range: Young Teens+

Period: Contemporary

Setting: London / New York

Genres:  AdventureBoys


  • Elena is a teenager who's helped her friend Danny to rescue his ex-SAS grandfather Fergus from an attempt by the secret service to kill him.
  • Marcie Deveraux is a MI5 agent who's using Elena to track down a hi-tech terrorist. She's already killed Elena's father, unknown to the younger girl, and is quite ruthless in carrying out her mission and her own agenda.


Elena becomes involved with a hi-tech mastermind nicknamed Dark Star when she asks him for help, and is drawn into his terrorist plot to gain revenge against the world. She must play double agent and travel to New York supported by the doubtful Marcie and her team and secretly helped by Danny & Fergus.


Very much like the previous episodes in the Boy Soldier series, Avenger follows a lo-lit hi-tech thriller style, laced with military phrases and acronyms. Relatively low on action, in comparison to the previous titles in the series, it still does carry its reader along as we want to find out whether Elena will succeed in hoodwinking Dark Star and whether Danny & Fergus will get to her before Marcie does.

Presumably to avoid taxing the reader's brain too much, he's presented with third-person points of view from pretty much everyone so he more-or-less know who's double-crossing whom and why. I say “he” here because, although the principal character is an young woman, it will mostly be boys who are turning the pages of this story. Elena is in fact an intelligent and caring young woman who's done the best she can with a poor hand in life. She's given up several opportunities to help Danny and his grandfather and, frankly, deserves better treatment than she has and will receive at the hands of MI5.

The criminal characters are far too shallow. Dark Star himself turns out to be a rich entrepreneur who's devastated when his son is killed on September 11th 2001. Even if it is possible that an acute businessman might blame the whole world for what happened to his son, there's nothing in the text which makes you really believe it. His accomplice, a Mexican worker who was taken on as a casual worker years before, is an even less credible terrorist. Indeed, moments before he's found by MI5 we see him reflecting on Elena's innocence and his own debt of love to the Pointer family which took him in. It's impossible to believe that someone like this could condone teenage suicide bombers. Indeed his only role in the story seems to be to prevent the security services from finding Dark Star too quickly. I strongly suspect that the author had no idea he was going to have Dark Star play such a vital part when he was just a useful plot device in the previous story. Nor did he seem to have any inspiration about how he was going to get rid of him or his helper. Beware, this story has a high body count.

The most disturbing aspect of the series remains the attitude of MI5 to people's lives and feelings. Clearly some difficult decisions have to be made when the security of the country is at stake, but that's something which, in a book aimed at young teenagers, can and should be made the centre of a struggle of conscience not a simple executive decision. In addition, certain killings are condoned not for any clear reason of national self-defence but because the people concerned are becoming inconvenient. Clearly we're not intended to approve entirely of Marcie and her murderous ways but there's almost an acknowledgement that it's at least a possible choice. Fergus, who's as close as we can get to a responsible adult in this series, is as ruthless as the rest when push comes to shove.

True, Danny & Elena's friendship remains although made more fragile by Danny's enthusiasm for following his grandfather's way of life. Elena, on the other hand, has been drawn into that world unwillingly, and has sacrificed much for it. More, in fact, than she knows, since Marcie's murdered her father whom she desperately wanted to feel proud of. Unselfishly, she goes along with the plan which has her as bait and at the end her only reward is to be killed by the increasingly vicious Marcie Deveraux. (It's not 100% clear that she is in fact dead, but certainly she was shot and for no very good reason). Her character deserves better.

Of any book for youngsters you have to ask the question: what will the young reader have gained after finishing it? After reading this one, I fear he'll have gained a sound grasp of shallow military acronyms and speech and a hazy idea that the security services are right to do anything which furthers their needs, including killing. And not too much else.


  • Predators on the internet
  • How easy is it to make your own bomb?

Sunday 11th February 2007