Author : Chris Bradford
Genre : Fiction
Publisher : Puffin
Meet a new type of hero: kid bodyguards with scary talent.
AS a British kickboxing champion, 14-year old Connor Reeves is used to being in dangerous situations.
But even he finds himself way over his head when he is kidnapped by a dangerous terrorist group on a mission to kidnap the US President’s daughter.
Thankfully, however, Connor is no ordinary teenager. He has been equipped with skills in surveillance, hostage survival and unarmed combat, all taught to him through a special protection program called ... Buddyguard.
Yeah, I thought the name was a little cheesy. But don’t judge a book by its cover: the kids in Buddyguard could probably take you down before you could blink. With the rise of teen stars and prepubescent celebrities, adults aren’t the only ones targeted by criminals. And who better to protect a kid than a fellow kid?
This intriguing “teenage bodyguard” concept forms the backbone of Bodyguard: Hostage, the first in a new series from bestselling young adult fiction author Chris Bradford. Packed with pulse-pounding action and memorable characters, the novel is a non-stop thrill ride, a Jason Bourne series for the younger generation.
A former musician, Bradford’s books have been published in over 20 languages and have garnered over 18 children’s book award nominations.
Bradford seems to be a “method writer”: for his previous series, the award-winning Young Samurai, he trained in samurai swordsmanship, karate, and ninjutsu, among others, to properly depict the enigmatic world of feudal Japan.
For this Bodyguard series, Bradford embarked on an intensive close-protection course to become a professional bodyguard, picking up skills in defensive driving, tactical firearms, rings of defence, and surveillance, among others.
The research really brings Hostage to life, with Bradford integrating all this information seamlessly into the plot. Reading about bodyguard techniques such as states of awareness and surveillance tracking was both fascinating and enjoyable.
A particularly nice detail was Connor having to go for legal lectures – Bradford thankfully does not glamorise bodyguarding, but capably portrays it as a challenging profession where mistakes lead to deadly consequences.
Bodyguard: Hostage’s main plot sizzles with suspense. Connor, fresh out of Buddyguard training, is assigned to protect the headstrong Alicia Mendez, daughter of the president. Sheltered for most of her life, all Alicia wants is freedom and friendship from Connor: however, this ends up conflicting with his bodyguard duties. Complicating matters is the appearance of a Middle Eastern terrorist cell, with devious plans for her.
Bradford uses current political affairs to influence his story, and the result is a gripping thriller that feels all too believable.
Most of Bodyguard: Hostage’s fun came from the tense mind games between US security services and the terrorist cell, as both try to anticipate each other’s plans. Fans of TV series Homeland will probably really enjoy these scenes.
Interspersed with the main story is a subplot about Connor making friends with Alicia and blending in at her school. These parts, while providing light humour, were overly predictable and felt lifted out of a 1990s teen comedy. All the standard genre trappings are present: a prom that goes terribly wrong; bullying jocks; a misunderstanding that leads to relationship strain. While these parts were not written badly, they felt derivative, mere filler in between the much better written action scenes.
Character-wise, Connor is a great protagonist, an eager every-kid doing his best to survive in a situation far beyond his imagining. Alicia, however, comes across as slightly whiny most of the time, and I honestly will not miss her if she does not appear in the next book.
The villains are effectively menacing, despite being rather one-note, and the supporting cast was great, especially the other Buddyguards Connor encounters. I was particularly fond of Charley, a former famous surfer turned agent, now confined to a wheelchair after a previous assignment. She and Connor have an intriguing relationship, which I hope will be developed as the series progresses.
While Bodyguard: Hostage is aimed mostly at older children and teenagers, adults looking for a fun thriller without graphic violence or sex will also love this novel. Its fast pace allows it to be devoured within a day or two.
The next book, Bodyguard: Ransom, is due in May 2014, and will feature Connor protecting the twin daughters of an Australian media mogul on a luxury yacht. Judging from Hostage, the series definitely has potential, so here’s hoping all upcoming novels in the series are written just as well!