If Defender of the Realm were a cocktail, it would be an intoxicating blend – two parts James Bond, three parts Batman (or for that matter, any other super hero ending in ‘man’), and one part Mission Impossible.
Brought to the shelves by Mark Huckerby and Nick Ostler, a writing partnership best known for their work on television scripts like Danger Mouse and The Octonauts, Defender of the Realm is an absolute rip-snorter of a debut novel. It’s a heady, thrill-a-minute blur of action and adventure.
Prince Alfie of Wales, a reluctant heir to the throne, becomes King when his father is killed. Thrust into the limelight, Alfie takes his father’s place, not only as the monarch but also as horse-riding, sword-wielding superhero, known only as The Defender.
The story rattles along, absorbing all the superlatives that could possibly be hurled its way – Defender of the Realm is easily the most exciting book I’ve read in recent memory; a genuine page-turner. In lesser hands, it could be a bit of a mess (there’s gizmos, gadgets, lizards, dragons, a smidge of time travel and a touch of Alfred the Great) but the authors know exactly what they’re doing. It’s a delight to be in the hands of such skilled writers who combine action and adventure and humour and enough reality to keep everything still just about tethered to planet Earth.
Given the author’s background, it’s no surprise that the book has a visual, almost cinematic quality. The first few pages rip into the story at breakneck pace, like a James Bond opening scene, only more so. When Alfie becomes the Defender, it echoes Bruce Wayne becoming Batman in the Bat Cave. Reading the book gives a feeling of being pinned to your seat, like watching the very best Hollywood blockbuster unfurl in front of you.
There’s also an endearing Britishness to the book, with many a hat-tip to James Bond, and the Prince of Wales taking centre stage. Alfie charges across our green and pleasant land like one of those crazed American package tours – Stonehenge, Winchester, Edinburgh Castle, Westminster Abbey all get ticked off. It’s patriotic in a warm, engaging way; the Royal Family and the British Tourist Board should be indebted to Ostler and Huckerby.
Just like any good cocktail, Defender of the Realm will leave you giddy, wanting more. The good news for those of you with a thirst? Book number two is on its way soon.
A free copy of Defender of the Realm was provided by the publishers.