Orphan, Monster, Spy

by Matt Killeen

Published by Usborne

RIGHT away what’s really interesting about this book is that it takes the form of a young adult historical spy novel, which is something I had not yet encountered but which intrigued me deeply.

I was initially worried about all the elements that Matt Killeen needed to juggle with and yet the way he managed to do this was one of the things that I found most impressive about it as a book.

The plot was always enough to thrill the reader in the way any spy novel should, the character development didn’t feel lacking and, in fact, went on to be an extremely important part of its appeal, and the historical aspect was perhaps the element which stood out most.

All the details were perfectly balanced, with a solid factual twist based on the reality of the Second World War which offered dark and upsetting moments to provide a more chilling edge.

This is the first in a series of books which I have not yet read, although it immediately sent me off looking for the next one.

The first of the series is set in 1939 Germany and is focused on the main character of Sarah, a 15- year-old blonde, blue-eyed Jewish girl made an orphan by her mother’s recent death. In her need to escape she meets a mysterious man that takes her in. He turns out to be Captain Floyd, a British spy who helps her train to work undercover without getting caught.

Many of Sarah’s skills make her the perfect candidate to be a spy, such as her expertise at gymnastics that was cut short by her horrific circumstances and particularly a skill at acting she learned from her mother. This is referenced heavily throughout the book, especially when she takes on a role at a Hitler youth boarding school full of the daughters of powerful Nazis.

Sarah’s mission during her time there is to befriend a girl whose father is responsible for developing a deadly weapon and use that friendship to investigate him and his work and pass on information to the captain. Much of the tension in the book comes from Sarah having to act as something that disgusts her, pretending to support the people that despise her for her very existence.

This intensity magnifies every little detail and helps the reader to understand the dangers of the situation and how vital success is. That establishes a connection with Sarah that can be difficult in books with so much action going on.

Expertly using the plot to develop the main character rather than detracting from her, the book doesn’t shy away from the emotional and psychological journey that Sarah is on. The pain it causes her to pretend to be a monster is contrasted with the anger and hatred she feels for these people, which allows her to play her part in bringing them down.

Everything about Orphan, Monster, Spy – from the development of Sarah’s character and the adventures she goes through to the suspenseful and gripping plot – is incredible. As a reading experience it feels deliberate and all consuming, and makes what is a reasonably long book into one that demands to be read feverishly over a couple of days.