If you’re familiar with children’s fiction, you will have, at some point, come across Enid Blyton’s The Famous Five and The Five Find-Outers and Dog series. Growing up, these books were my introduction to the world of secret passages and invisible inks, and were instrumental in developing my love for spy thrillers. Imagine getting to relive that rush of excitement as you find a similar world hiding along the streets of Mumbai.
Samira Joshi is 17 years old and has only one dream – to be a spy. Spying runs in her genes. Her great-grandmother was famous for sticking her nose in everyone’s business. Her grandmother had a flourishing side-business of tracking down errant husbands and missing servants. Her parents are elite intelligence agents for RAW. Yet, Mr. and Mrs. Joshi expect their only daughter to become a doctor.
When Samira sees a college friend being trapped by a pimp, she sets off on a daring mission to save her. Along the way she discovers the existence of a secret sisterhood of teen spies — The Spyders — and Samira wants in!
The question is, do they want her?
With two career-spies for parents, Samira’s training in spycraft began at the tender age of four. When other children were learning the alphabet, she was solving anagrams and deciphering codes. By the time she turned five, Samira could speak eight languages.
Unclear whether it is their high standards for trade perfection, or fear for their daughter’s safety, Samira is exasperated at their sudden change in behaviour now pushing her to concentrate on achieving top grades in academics. She is desperate to prove her capabilities as a spy and convince them to let her follow her dreams, which makes her borderline rebellious.
While her parents are away, Samira deliberately inserts herself in what appears to be a clandestine meeting and sets off to uncover the mystery behind it. What she discovers is a secret hideout for a group of teenage girls trained as undercover agents who assist the Mumbai police from the shadows in solving crime and thwarting dangerous attacks on the city.
There is a certain addiction that creeps in as you follow Samira. She knows what she wants and is determined to fight for it.
The book has everything you would expect from a hard-core spy thriller – stealth, surveillance, recon. The Spyders receive rigorous training to handle intense situations. The team has a psychiatrist to keep a watch on their mental health and you can bet she has a hard time keeping these raring teenagers in control.
The mastermind behind the program – Col. Baldev Singh – is a shrewd handler who works his agents hard and knows exactly when and where to cut off air supply (read internet privileges). Thankfully, his wife, Kakki Aunty, is around to keep him in check and ensure the girls are safe and always well fed. She is their mama bear and even Col. Singh must beware before crossing her.
Mr and Mrs. Joshi are too busy saving the world to keep an eye on Samira. When she discovers her parents have knowingly kept her away from the Spyders, she is furious, but when they find themselves in trouble, Samira takes it upon herself to save them.
Sharply plotted and authentically told, I was surprised that a YA spy thriller could be this enjoyable. The humour and sarcasm that comes naturally to the teen Spyders amidst life threatening missions makes it an entertaining read.
I was concerned that Samira’s parents did not think twice about revealing mission specific details, and what was, in all likely hood, highly classified information, in unsecure environments. Nonetheless the element of mystery, thrill, and razor-sharp plot twists keep you going.
As much as I enjoyed the characters and the story, I find myself wary of Samira’s grandmother. Her claim to know everything because she lived with spies all her life makes me wonder if there is more to her story. I bet that would be a juicy mystery for Samira to uncover.
Even though this is written for the young adult, I presume it would be received very well in the middle-grade, and possibly even children’s, age group. The author’s use of simple and crisp language will benefit the book’s reach, not to mention find favour among adults.
With a protagonist who will inspire many young girls, I can see this growing into a series the readers will devour.
Along Came a Spyder by Apeksha Rao. Published in 2020 by TreeShade Books. This review copy courtesy of Blogchatter.
Book 1 of 2021.
Aquamarine Flavours Rating: 🌟🌟🌟1/2.
Available on Amazon*.
About Photo: A critical element of spy-craft is the ability to blend into your surroundings as you spy on your subject. This quilled ‘spyder’ is doing just that as it goes about looking for clues around its web with its trusted magnifying glass.
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