AGENT 21 – Chris Ryan

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When Zak Darke’s parents die of supposed food poisoning while on a business trip, Zak is left an orphan. Reluctantly taken in by his aunt and uncle, the only person left in the world who cares about Zak is his cousin, Ellie. He doesn’t even have very many friends at school, where he spends a lot of his time daydreaming.

This isn’t because he doesn’t care about school; it’s because he doesn’t have to pay attention. Zak is a remarkably smart 13-year-old. He has a talent for mechanics, pulls straight As without even trying, loves to read, is athletically built and has a sixth sense for danger. These characteristics in conjunction with his lack of personal connections makes him the perfect candidate for a covert government program for which he is recruited.

After being whisked away from his remaining family and everything he knows in the middle of the night, Zak’s entire life changes – literally overnight. As of the following morning is he no longer Zak Darke, but Agent 21. Instead of attending high school classes, he trains – physically and mentally – all day long. He has no contact with the outside world and as far as anyone he’s ever known is concerned, he is as dead as his parents.

But as difficult as training is, it’s nothing compared to Zak’s first mission: To befriend the son of a Mexican drug lord, infiltrate his home, acquire proof of his underhanded dealings and help his team break into his compound. No assistance. No backup. No big deal.


If your first thought is “hmmm, this feels familiar…” then I’m right there with you. Orphan. Living with unsympathetic relatives. Finds out he can be part of something amazing and awesome and leave behind the unhappy “home” he ended up in. Zak’s first code name is even Harry. Yeah, definitely familiar.

But this time instead of learning to use magic, the boy learns to be a deadly and efficient spy.

Because Zak’s first assignment is to go after a man who very clearly is not a nice guy, it’s easy to root for Zak. There’s very little grey area by the end of the story, and Zak’s character is one that immediately evokes sympathy from the reader.

The book is written at a fast pace, with very little “down time” in which to get bored. I like this in a thriller. I don’t want to be drawn out of the story, I want to go from one climax to the next. On top of that, the author is ex-SAS (British military), so he knows first hand the details of weaponry, combat strategy and what it feels like to be in a highly stressful, life-or-death situation. All of this comes through in the detail of his writing, and helps to set the scene flawlessly.

I’m really into the premise of a teenaged spy – it seems like such a cool twist. His age brings with it an aura of vulnerability and that also makes it easier to root for him. It allows a unique perspective in the writing that I very much enjoyed.

This is the first YA book I’ve read that deals with real-life danger (as opposed to supernatural). I was surprised at how well Ryan pulled it off. It still has all the detail required to make the danger clear and realistic. More detail than I expected, particularly when it comes to what the drug lord has done to those who betrayed him in the past – and their families. It’s hard for me to put my finger on exactly what differentiates this from adult spy writing, but I think it’s in the depth of detail (particularly on the violent and dangerous encounters), the less complex (though still completely engaging) plot and politics, relatively simple situational drama and the ease of identifying good guys from bad.

I’d definitely give this book two thumbs up. If you enjoy the intrigue of a good spy story or mystery, if you enjoy suspense and if you also are a fan of YA books, this’ll be right up your alley.


Book Title: Agent 21
Author: Chris Ryan
Edition: Paperback
Published by: Red Fox
Released: 2011
Genre: Young Adult, Espionage, Thriller
Pages: 324
Date Read: July 11-12, 2013
Rating: 8/10 //<![CDATA[ var sc_project=10144299; var sc_invisible=1; var sc_security="82f610c9"; var scJsHost = (("https:" == document.location.protocol) ? "https://secure." : "http://www."); document.write("”); //]]>

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