Fledgling: Jason Steed
(2008) is an action-adventure novel for middle grade and young adult readers. Written by Mark A. Cooper, the novel follows the exploits of eleven-year-old Jason Steed, martial arts maven and military brat (born, raised, and trained), and his fight to save the world from nuclear war. Jason Steed embodies qualities of confidence, resilience, and perseverance as he battles bad guys, navigates his first romance, and deals with conflicting emotions over his relationship with his father.
Set in the 1960s to early 1970s, the book is narrated from a third person point of view
. Jason is born in 1963, the son of Royal Navy Lieutenant Raymond Steed and his wife, Olympic champion Karen Macintosh. Tragically, Karen dies in childbirth, leaving baby Jason motherless. Ray immediately volunteers for duty in Vietnam and is gone from home many months at a time.
In 1968, Jason is a self-reliant five-year-old living in Hong Kong with his nanny. He sees his father only infrequently. On one of his father’s visits, Ray admits that he hates coming home because seeing Jason reminds him of Karen. Ray regrets that the hospital saved his son’s life instead of his wife’s. Jason overhears this comment and is devastated. Ray treats Jason strictly, with lots of shouting and spanking, though he regrets his actions and his estrangement from his son.
Blonde-haired and blue-eyed Jason loves milk and carrot cake and learns to speak Cantonese from his Chinese nanny, Mai Lee. Despite his young age, Jason begins karate lessons with the teacher Wong Tong and earns a black belt in record time. On a visit to England, Jason saves the queen’s daughter, Catherine from drowning, earning him a kiss and an invitation to her birthday party.
Back in Hong Kong, Jason expands his martial arts lessons, gaining a black belt in Tae Kwan Do. Since he only sleeps an hour or so at a time, Jason escapes out his window at night and practices on the Royal Marine’s assault course located behind their apartment. By the age of six, Jason is adept at Judo and Shotokan and is learning to speak Japanese. At ten, Jason breaks into the Marine’s flight simulator room and teaches himself to fly helicopters and planes. One night, Jason is caught by MPs and locked up, but he escapes in time for his martial arts competition the next day. Ray discovers Jason’s nightly exploits and feels betrayed by Jason’s lies. Ray moves them to England.
In England, Jason attends the same private school his father did and learns French, Russian, and German. Jason uses his martial arts skills to rescue a fourth grader from bullies and to save his father from muggers, earning a rare demonstration of his father’s love. Jason makes friends with fellow student Scott Turner, a science and tech enthusiast who operates a ham radio. At a school dance, Jason sees Catherine again. The queen, however, is not happy with their relationship and orders them not to communicate. Jason joins the British Sea Cadets and studies seamanship, compass reading, and Morse code.
Jason attends Sea Cadet summer camp onboard the HMS Stoke
even though a civil war has recently erupted in nearby Jakarta and the area is in turmoil. At camp, Jason makes friends with Todd, the only other kid his age. The Sea Cadets compete to win a merit badge. For one of the competitions, teams are given inflatable rafts and tasked with surviving at sea for the day. A group of marines sails through the group of Sea Cadets, drawing fire from helicopters manned by Jakarta rebels. Many of the Sea Cadets’ rafts are sunk, and many of the boys wounded and killed. The marines are also hit. Jason and his team rescue the marines. Under attack again, the officer in charge, Major Wilson, orders them to abandon ship. Beset by sharks, the group swims desperately to Jakarta’s shore. Jason supports Todd, who is unable to swim. On reaching land, they are attacked again and Todd is killed, despite Jason’s heroic efforts to save him. Jason is deeply affected by the loss of his friend. The only survivors are Major Wilson, the marines Pete and Ryan, Jason, and another teenage Sea Cadet, John.
Major Wilson tells Jason that the marines are on Jakarta to retrieve a cassette that contains a computer program which will stop a new nuclear weapon from being detonated and starting an international war. Since the only marine who could speak Cantonese was killed, Jason steps in as a translator. They travel through the jungle to meet an informant who tells them that the cassette is in the hands of Chung Weing, a wealthy landowner.
The team proceeds to Weing’s compound where Jason kills a guard. Major Wilson, Pete, Ryan, and John are captured, but Jason hides in a B-24 bomber. Jason singlehandedly confronts Weing and retrieves the cassette. Shot while escaping, Jason returns to the plane to send a Morse code message to Scott. Jason manages to rescue the team and they flee in the B-24, piloted by Jason. Although they are fired on by the Chinese, Jason lands the plane safely. Jason is badly wounded, but as the doctor says, he is “like a young eagle—a fledgling with the heart of a lion.” Jason recovers to receive two awards from the queen. She also allows Jason to start seeing Catherine again. Ray is proud of Jason and their relationship continues to improve.
Cooper wrote and self-published Fledgling: Jason Steed
to support his son’s literacy when he noticed that his son’s grades had improved after reading the Harry Potter series. The novel’s non-stop action, strong hero, and positive themes of honor, perseverance, and family make it a popular choice for reluctant readers. Fledgling: Jason Steed
also received a YA book of the Year award in 2009 from Fictionreviewer.com and was a finalist for a 2009 Indie Book Award.