Book one of the Joshua Files, by M. G. Harris, is one of those books. You know the ones I mean; the kind of book that gets into the psyche of its reader and spreads like wildfire through the collective conscious of popular culture. I'm being serious here, just let's not discuss those "other" books - Invisible City is not like them in any other way.
I have to admit that the opening was a little too like the opening to Anthony Horrowitz's Stormbreaker. Both heroes, Stormbreaker's Alex Ryder and Invisible City's Joshua Garcia, have lost someone important to them, a loss that sparks the ensuing adventure, and it all seems fairly rudimentary. But I hadn't expected MG to draw me so close to Joshua's plight - his anxieties, questions that are left unanswered, a home life in tatters and the world continuing to turn. And as MG slowly builds the story around Joshua's first investigations into the death of his father, I really understood how the nature of his loss, and the loss felt by his mother, had settled upon them in a way that no other children's-adventure novelist in MG's contemporaries has done.
The young James Bond's are all action, even Horowitz's Alex Ryder is often too busy with his exploits to consider how he is, or at least should be, feeling. MG, it seems, isn't prepared to rush the narrative for the sake of action and adventure - it's a good 60 pages before Joshua's investigation leads him into real danger. And for this very reason I care all the more. I've been given a chance to understand Joshua's pain, how he deals with that, how he chooses to carry out his investigations, and the wonderful use of capoeira to circumvent the question of how a thirteen year-old boy is capable of holding his own in an adult world.
An adult world that is so dangerous that I was actually shocked in a way that Horowitz and others had failed to shock me with their writing. MG laces her text with subtle brilliance, deftly swinging the reader from moments of introspection to violence and the horror that results so smoothly that you quickly forget you're reading the first book of a brand new writer.
And this all before you get to the crux of the themes and any discussion on how well thought out the machinations of plot are, how truly scary the potential of what it all means.
Admittedly as an adult I did gurn at the introduction of secret societies, possible alien/futuristic technologies and UFO's (don't, as I did, immeditately think of Alien visitations), but that is the nature of the age group, and the genre, and it's the action-adventure remit. MG continued to hold tightly to her set up, keeping us locked with Joshua and his anxieties, worries, and concerns, making sure that no leaps of faith or massive suspension of disbeliefs is required of the reader.
And to top it off, MG uses the device of blogging to develop a nice break in the structure - something that may both maintain interest in those young-boy readers (not that they need it) and to develop Joshua's innerself in ways that could have come across as stilted if written alongside the greater narrative.
And finally, MG makes no bones about her adult themes and putting Joshua through the issues of the adult world; his rite of passage.
Invisible City is to Stormbreaker what the Bourne films are to Bond. There is depth to the character of Joshua, and far better based realism (alien/futuristic technologies aside) and no overbearance or reliance upon special skillsets or super-spy technologies. In fact there is a brilliant moment where Joshua's mission starts to turn towards Bondesque infiltration and MG spectacularly redirects the story in another direction, ruining any use Joshua's new tools may have had, ramping up the tension and ultimately delivering the pay off of believability.