Ranking the Fleming-era Bond novels (continuation included)

It’s taken me six months, but I finally finished the entire Fleming era timeline of James Bond novels, including the 4 continuation novels set in the era and even the two released pages from Per Fine Ounce. So I thought I would create a ranking of all, short story volumes included.

  1. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service
    Long has this one been my favorite James Bond novel. Everything from the plot, to the characters, to Bond’s characterization, and the locations work. Going from Bond meeting Tracy to investigation Blofeld, to his harrowing ski chase escape, to the finale at Piz Gloria and Bond’s marriage to Tracy and her subsequent death form to make the most engaging and heartwrenching Bond adventure.

  2. Moonraker
    This is the one where Fleming finally hit his stride. Despite lacking the travelogue aspect of most of Bond’s adventures, Moonraker succeeds with an exciting story and some of the most interesting characters in the Bond canon. Drax makes for one of the greatest villains and the bridge game that sets off Bond’s conflict with him is arguably the most suspenseful peace of literature Fleming ever produced.

  3. Doctor No
    Strange or not, I found myself having some of the most fun with these books while reading Doctor No. The story is very pulpy for Bond, but with a great villain, who is built up throughout the story until finally being revealed in the latter half with his death being one of the series’s strangest. Honeychile Ryder is a fine companion, but ultimately a forgettable one. The return of Quarrel and Strangways are nice touches from Bond’s previous sojourn to Jamaica. Overall, a fun novel and an easy read.

  4. From Russia with Love
    Probably the most well known Fleming novel and also the most pure spy novel of the bunch. It has an intriguing setup that mostly works. However, the fact that the plan is spoon-fed to us in the first third of the book, it makes it doubly weird that Bond and M are so naive about the plan when they learn of it, especially when they are essentially playing catch-up with the reader. However, the characters in the novel are great, especially Donovan Grant and Darko Kerim. A fun novel that ends with a surprising cliffhangar.

  5. Casino Royale
    The original Bond story which is a fun and quick read. However, like the Dr. No film, it serves as a template for better and more fleshed out adventures to come. As it is, it introduces all the staples of the Bond series, the characters, the villains, the plot. However, the main villain being killed off early in the story does make the last few pages drag a bit. The Vesper twist still plays well today though. A great novel, but one that could’ve been better with an extra set piece as we got in the film version.

  6. Trigger Mortis
    The first continuation novel on this list. Trigger Mortis is a fast-paced story that features unused Fleming material. Bond faces off against one of his most dangerous an interesting adversaries in Sin Jae-seong. The Bond girls aren’t the most interesting and Pussy Galore’s inclusion is unnecessary, but its still a fun adventure and one, I believe, Fleming would have been proud of.

  7. You Only Live Twice
    A Bond book that dared to do something different. I always wonder what it would have been like to read this one in 1964, when Japan still felt far more foreign today. It’s a different kind of story with interesting characters and an intriguing premise, that doesn’t include the uncomfortable racism that the film version does. However, Blofeld is easily at his most boring and tedious in this one. That said, I like the ending and the setup of Bond having amnesia and going to Russia is an interesting one. Too bad, it was mostly undone pretty quickly in the next one.

  8. Colonel Sun
    The first (published) continuation novel, I know we probably all still lament the fact that we’ll never get to read Per Fine Ounce. It has a great villain and a great leading lady. The greek setting is fantastic and definitely makes the book feel more exotic. However, very little happens for large sections of the book and Colonel Sun’s plan to frame the British for attacking a Russian conference just isn’t all that exciting. Nevertheless, it’s a fun read and likely the only continuation novel that will ever see its elements filmed.

  9. Forever and a Day
    Horowitz’s second book is a short, fun prequel to Casino Royale, detailing Bond’s first mission and how he came to the number 007. The book’s success largely hinges on the character of Joanne Brochet, aka, Madame Sixtine. She is easily one of the most realized Bond ladies in the entire series. One that would definitely not have existed the same had the book been written in the 1950s. As it is, the story is mostly standard Bond fare. The finale on the sinking boat is exciting. But after, three continuation novels (DMC, Solo, FAAD) and three films (LALD, FYEO, TLD) have now used heroin trafficking as a plot device, it’s growing a little stale.

  10. Goldfinger
    Probably Fleming’s most, by-the-numbers Bond novel. It’s got a great villain, a tense golf game, and possibly the most outrageous plot of any of the Bond novels. The film corrects a number of it’s logic gaps. The book has a very workman feel about it. I think this is where Fleming started to get bored and began trying to find ways to move on, before reversing course and writing several more books.

  11. Thunderball
    A good, though not great novel. This is the only time we truly see SPECTRE’s machinations in motion and they are terrifying and, oddly, ethical. Blofeld is far more entertaining than the fairly mundane Largo (I prefer Adolpho Celi’s version) and the story is missing something without the inclusion of Fiona/Fatima. The story works mostly as the extortion premise is intriguing (or at least it was in 1961) and the Bahamas location is perfect for Bond. That said, it also suffers from the FRWL issue of the reader being told the villain’s entire plan at the beginning and having Bond play catch up.

  12. Solo
    Surprisingly, I enjoyed this book much better on my second read after having read all of the other 50s/60s set Bond stories. I think it has to do with it being quite different from most of the others. Bond is sent to Nigeria erm Zanzarim to end the civil war. After completing that mission and being shot and left for dead, he decides to “go solo” and get revenge on those who wronged him. None of the characters are terribly interesting and there is really no reason why Bond had to go solo, not to mention it feels very out of character for him (the literary version of him anyway). Still though, it’s an entertaining read and one that I definitely enjoy more now.

  13. Devil May Care
    Another one that I found myself enjoying far more than previously. However, IMO, this is the A View to a Kill of the novels. One that has a great villain, but aside from that, never tries to be anything more than another one. It has all the familiar tropes: Darius, the charismatic ally (Darko Kerim), Bond vs the cheating villain in a high-stakes game of tennis (golf, bridge), Bond captured and forced to work for Dr. Gorner (Goldfinger), Dr. Gorner is a rich, megalomaniac with a deformity (Doctor No), and the Bond girl, Scarlett, has a secret that is revealed to Bond in the very last pages (Gala Brand). It’s certainly a fun read, but plays itself too safe to stand out too much.

  14. Octopussy and The Living Daylights
    IMO, the better of the two short story compilations. And while I enjoy the short, quick reads that these stories present, I much prefer the full novels.
    14. a. The Living Daylights
    An exciting Cold War thriller of a story in which Bond is forced to protect a defecting Soviet from
    a skilled sniper. Bond disobeys his orders and doesn’t kill her, showing there is more to Bond
    than previously thought.
    14. b. The Property of a Lady
    A different kind of story that involves Bond identifying a Soviet agent bidding on a faberge egg.
    Not sure why I enjoyed this story so much, but there it is.
    14. c. Octopussy
    An interesting story about a murder and stolen Nazi gold. The story was used as the backstory
    for Octopussy’s father in the eponymous film.
    14. d. 007 in New York
    A short short story about 007’s thoughts on New York. I don’t think I would enjoy his eggs though.

  15. For Your Eyes Only
    The longer short story compilation, that is fun, but some of the stories either feel like they should have been shorter or could have been fleshed out into full novels.
    15. a. Risico
    The best story in the compilation detailing the war between Kristatos and Colombo. Not really
    much more to say about it.
    15. b. For Your Eyes Only
    A fun little adventure in which Bond is sent by M on a revenge mission. It plays out similarly to
    the film version of events, accept that the finale takes place by a lake in Vermont and lady
    Havelock is named Judy instead of Melina.
    15. c. The Hildebrand Rarity
    A bizarre, but nevertheless entertaining story about Bond being recruited by a repulsive
    millionaire to find a rare fish in the Seychelles. The story works as a result of Bond’s utter hatred
    of Milton Krest and then his subsequent investigation into his death. It’s unclear who killed him,
    but I’m leaning towards the wife. Liz Krest likely earned her new life free of her abuser.
    15. d. From a View to a Kill
    A strange story about Bond investigating the murder of a British agent and finding a strange
    secret neo-Nazi base in France. It’s easily the weirdest Bond short story and one that I didn’t
    fully enjoy.
    15. e. Quantum of Solace
    The lamest of all Bond stories, Quantum of Solace is nothing more than the Governor of Nassau
    relating a story to Bond during a boring dinner party about a former employee and his adulterous
    wife. The story has no real moral or conclusion other than the employee finally left his wife and
    stuck her with the overdue bills for their house and car. Nothing about this story is Bondian.

  16. Live and Let Die
    The second Bond novel that has not aged well. It features an uncomfortable amount of racism, that may have been acceptable in in 1954, but is difficult to read through a modern lens. The story itself is really strange with Bond investigating embezzled sunken treasure. Mr. Big is interesting villain, but Solitaire is possibly the worst Bond girl. It does feature the grisly maiming of Felix Leiter, but other than that, it is a very forgettable story.

  17. The Spy Who Loved Me
    The most un-Bond Bond novel, one that Bond barely features in. It all takes place at the Dreamy Pines Motor Court in upstate New York and is told through the eyes of Vivian Michel. A young woman being stalked by two creepy hitmen until Bond randomly shows up to save her. She is a tortured woman who has had very unhealthy relationships with men, that Bond seems to somewhat heal.

  18. The Man with the Golden Gun
    A poor novel, but that isn’t necessarily it or Fleming’s fault. Having died before revisions could be finished it was always doomed. As it is, it has great elements: Bond’s brainwashing and attempted assassination of M and the train finale. However, Bond’s unbrainwashing seems too quick and Scaramanga is not nearly as interesting a character as the film version. If only we could have seen what the completed novel would have been.

  19. Diamonds are Forever
    This has always been my least favorite of the Fleming novels. Every previous time I would attempt to read of them in a row, this is the one that kills it for me. The plot is boring, the villains are boring, there’s only one exciting setpiece (the train sequence), even Bond seems to be bored throughout the whole story. The only redeeming quality is Tiffany Case, who may be, until Tracy, the most fleshed out woman in the Bond novels. IMO, this is the lowest of the low of the Fleming novels.

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Had a quick attempt at this. Looks about right to my tastes.

  1. You Only Live Twice
  2. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service
  3. From Russia With Love
  4. Casino Royale
  5. Forever and a Day
  6. Colonel Sun
  7. Trigger Mortis
  8. Doctor No
  9. Thunderball
  10. Moonraker
  11. Live and Let Die
  12. Goldfinger
  13. For Your Eyes Only
  14. Octopussy and The Living Daylights
  15. The Spy Who Loved Me
  16. The Man With The Golden Gun
  17. Diamonds Are Forever
  18. Devil May Care
  19. Solo

Love all my top 12. The Horowitz and Amis novels are highly placed, but that’s how highly I regard them. I like novels 13-17 less so, but they’re still Fleming. I have no time for Devil May Care or Solo.

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I found myself enjoying DMC and Solo much better when read at the the end of this marathon. Solo feels rather fresh as its story is very different to most Bond novels, especially, as the Bond going rogue trope is rather foreign to the novels. DMC mostly works, but is very formulaic. The two things that most don’t work in the novel are the tennis match, which feels like a lame rip-off of Goldfinger’s golf game (I also don’t buy Bond being that good at tennis) and Bond not being able to figure out that Poppy and Scarlett were one and the same. I mean, Scarlett claimed her sister’s name, who was addicted to Heroin and working for a man trafficking heroin, was Poppy. On top of that, Gorner didn’t know what she was talking about when Scarlett yelled about where Poppy was. This reveal was telegraphed and painfully obvious and I can’t believe Bond never picked up on it. Other than that, I actually found the novel to be an easy and fun read.

Here’s my list:

NOVELS:

  1. From Russia, With Love
  2. Thunderball
  3. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service
  4. Doctor No
  5. Live And Let Die
  6. Moonraker
  7. Casino Royale
  8. Goldfinger
  9. Diamonds Are Forever
  10. Colonel Sun
  11. Trigger Mortis
  12. Forever And A Day
  13. You Only Live Twice
  14. The Man With The Golden Gun
  15. Devil May Care
  16. For Your Eyes Only
  17. Octopussy and The Living Daylights
  18. The Spy Who Loved Me
  19. Solo

SHORT STORIES:

  1. The Living Daylights
  2. For Your Eyes Only
  3. Risico
  4. The Property Of A Lady
  5. From A View To A Kill
  6. The Hildebrand Rarity
  7. Octopussy
  8. Quantum Of Solace
  9. 007 In New York

Updated list including the Christopher Wood novelizations. I won’t be including any of the Gardner/Benson novels in a future ranking. They can have their own lists.

  1. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service
  2. Moonraker
  3. Doctor No
  4. From Russia with Love
  5. Casino Royale
  6. James Bond, The Spy Who Loved Me
    A thrilling novelization that actually improves a few things on what is already my favorite Bond film. Bond feels more like Fleming’s Bond than Moore’s Bond. The story is told very well and is very suspenseful, especially the finale on the Lepadus. Cover to cover, the story is engaging and exciting and seemlessly fits itself into the Fleming timeline.
  7. Trigger Mortis
  8. You Only Live Twice
  9. Colonel Sun
  10. Forever and a Day
  11. James Bond and Moonraker
    The only novel on this list that cannot logically fit into Fleming’s timeline. Like JBTSWLM, JBAMR changes certain events to somewhat more realistic. However, the novel more closely follows the film as opposed to JBTSWLM, even some of the dialogue is taken verbatim. Bond’s characterization feels more like Moore’s Bond than Fleming’s. Some events are altered or omitted such as the pheasant shooting in California and (happily) the Bondola. The addition of Bond’s spacewalk is a great touch and especially reading Bond’s terror during it. Drax’s personality is that of the film with the appearance of Drax from the MR novel. Overall, a great adventure Bond not quite as great as Wood’s first effort.
  12. Goldfinger
  13. Thunderball
  14. Solo
  15. Devil May Care
  16. Octopussy and The Living Daylights
    a. The Living Daylights
    b. The Property of a Lady
    c. Octopussy
    d. 007 in New York
  17. For Your Eyes Only
    a. Risico
    b. For Your Eyes Only
    c. The Hildebrand Rarity
    d. From a View to a Kill
    e. Quantum of Solace
  18. Live and Let Die
  19. The Spy Who Loved Me
  20. The Man with the Golden Gun
  21. Diamonds are Forever
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Bond Novels favourites in the Fleming Timeline:

  1. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service
  2. From Russia With Love
  3. Moonraker
  4. Casino Royale
  5. Thunderball
  6. You Only Live Twice
  7. Goldfinger
  8. Colonel Sun
  9. Doctor No
  10. Live and Let Die
  11. For Your Eyes Only
  12. Octopussy and The Living Daylights
  13. Diamonds Are Forever
  14. Forever and a Day
  15. Trigger Mortis
  16. The Spy Who Loved Me
  17. Devil May Care
  18. The Man With The Golden Gun
  19. Solo