The best James Bond novels according to fans

Fan survey reveals the best-loved James Bond books.

Assorted paperback editions of Ian Fleming’s James Bond books. Photo by David Leigh.

Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels have captivated readers for decades, creating an indelible legacy in the literary world. Recently, we conducted a survey to find out which of Fleming’s novels are considered the best by Bond fans. The responses provide a fascinating insight into the enduring popularity of certain titles, as well as the reasons behind their appeal. Here, we present the top James Bond novels according to our survey, rank the short stories, and whittle down the continuation novels to the top 10.

Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels ranked

1. From Russia, With Love

Unsurprisingly, From Russia With Love emerged as the favourite among many respondents, receiving the highest number of mentions. This novel is often cited for its intricate plot, memorable characters, and the thrilling portrayal of Cold War espionage. John Chapman expressed his admiration for the book, stating, “From Russia With Love is a cracking cold war story”, while another admired its “very good plot and a good build up of tension”.

Paul Michael Kane also highlighted its appeal: “A deeper dive on the character and some great travel stuff on the train”.

Why it’s a great Bond book: From Russia With Love is celebrated for its sophisticated and suspenseful storytelling, offering readers a perfect blend of espionage, romance, and action.

2. Moonraker

Following closely behind is Moonraker, cherished for its gripping story and character development. Dave Johnson remarked, “Moonraker is a good solid story”, with Randall Allen Dunn adding, “I love the plot and the portrayal of Drax as the ugly villain, a Nazi masquerading as an English gentleman so he can use his missile to destroy London.”

Peter J shared his thoughts: “The card game scenes are absolutely the most enjoyable non-killing sections of all books”, while another participant says “Chapter 5 ‘Dinner at Blades’ is one of the most descriptive insights into Bond and M’s relationship across the series.”

Why it’s a great Bond book: Moonraker stands out for its imaginative plot, compelling villain, and the English setting that adds a unique charm to the story.

3. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service

Another top contender is On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. This novel is cherished for its emotional depth and the development of Bond’s character. Robyn commented, “The storyline is great! In depth characterization of James Bond and the love story of him and Tracy”.

Ollie P added, “it’s a good romance, a great adventure and eventually made one of the best films”.

Why it’s a great Bond book: The novel is celebrated for its poignant love story and the emotional complexity it brings to Bond’s character, making it a standout in the series.

4. Casino Royale

Casino Royale, the book that introduced Bond to the world, remains a favourite for many. Its raw depiction of espionage and the psychological depth of Bond’s character make it a standout. Romey T Keys noted, “Casino Royale is a brilliant thriller that is an incredible creation of a fictional world. It uses language in a way that points toward writers such as DeLillo and William Gibson”.

Double_O_Kev shared, “Casino Royale because it was the first one to introduce James Bond and the idea of this international spy”.

Why it’s a great Bond book: Casino Royale is revered for its intense and realistic portrayal of espionage, setting the foundation for the entire Bond series.

5. Dr No

Dr No is often praised for its exotic setting and the introduction of iconic characters. John Chapman highlighted his favourite moment in any of the novels, “Bond escaping from Dr No’s lair and the giant squid”.

Why it’s a great Bond book: The novel’s adventure, suspense, and memorable villain continue to captivate readers.

6. You Only Live Twice

You Only Live Twice stands out for its exploration of Bond’s psyche and the aftermath of personal loss. James noted, “The horror element really harkens back to Bram Stokers Dracula. The whole novel feels like James Bond is out to confront pure evil in the form Blofeld. It feels like a very different Blofeld character to the one in the other novels, one that I find much more compelling as he seems to be the root of the evil rather than his plot”.

Why it’s a great Bond book: The novel’s meditative and reflective tone, coupled with its exotic setting, distinguishes it from others in the series.

7. Goldfinger

Goldfinger is remembered for its larger-than-life villain and the iconic heist plot. Alan Schmetzer remarked, “Fleming really hit his stride with both character development and story telling on this one”.

Why it’s a great Bond book: The novel’s blend of action and intrigue, along with an unforgettable villain, makes it a perennial favourite.

8. Live and Let Die

Live and Let Die is celebrated for its vivid descriptions and the introduction of Felix Leiter. Brandon Bosworth praised “the grittiness, setting, and quasi-occult undertones” and noted that “Bond’s fight with Mr Big’s thugs in Harlem” is a particular highlight.

Why it’s a great Bond book: The novel’s blend of supernatural elements and high-stakes action continues to thrill readers.

9. Thunderball

Thunderball remains a classic, known for its underwater action sequences and the introduction of SPECTRE. OCJ noted the scenes at Shrublands, while a couple of other respondents noted the introduction of Blofeld.

Why it’s a great Bond book: The novel’s mix of high-tech espionage and tropical locales makes it a standout.

10. The Spy Who Loved Me and Diamonds Are Forever

Tied for the tenth spot are The Spy Who Loved Me and Diamonds Are Forever. Both novels have their unique appeal.

Regarding The Spy Who Loved Me, one person noted that “given the reputation Fleming has, his ability to write in a women’s voice was surprisingly authentic and credible. Also liked Bond turning up half way through!”

On Diamonds Are Forever, Bryan mentioned “the USA locations including Vegas. I thought it was cool that the enemy were American gangsters, a little different than normal. And I just felt like the diamond smuggling trade was fascinating to read about him follow the different links and ultimately close down the pipeline”, noted another.

Why they’re great Bond books: The Spy Who Loved Me provides a unique narrative perspective, while Diamonds Are Forever offers a gritty, engaging plot.

12. The Man With the Golden Gun

One book not mentioned by any survey participant was The Man With the Golden Gun. Clearly it is not a fan favourite.

Best Bond moments

The survey also revealed some of the most cherished moments in Fleming’s novels. These iconic scenes have left a lasting impact on readers.

  • The description of a casino in Casino Royale: This scene sets the tone for the entire series with its glamour and high stakes. “The way Fleming describes the casino is just brilliant,” shared Rick Coste.
  • Bond’s escape from Dr No’s lair: The tension and ingenuity in this sequence make it a standout moment. “The giant squid fight is one of the best moments,” noted a participant.
  • The climax of Thunderball with the Vulcan bomber hijack: A high-stakes plot point that showcases Bond’s resourcefulness. “The Vulcan bomber hijack is an unforgettable plot point,” said Dave Johnson.
  • The train chapters in From Russia With Love: These scenes are praised for their suspense and character interactions. “The tension between Bond and Tatiana on the train is palpable,” mentioned John Chapman.

Best villains

Fleming’s novels are known for their memorable villains. Here are the top ones according to the survey:

  • Ernst Stavro Blofeld: Often cited as Bond’s arch-nemesis, Blofeld’s intricate plots and sinister presence make him a top villain. “Blofeld is the quintessential Bond villain, his schemes are both grand and chilling,” said Adrian Werner.
  • Auric Goldfinger: His obsession with gold and elaborate heist plans make him a classic antagonist. “Goldfinger’s plan is audacious and his character is larger than life,” remarked Rick Coste.
  • Dr No: His eerie lair and menacing persona leave a lasting impression on readers. “Dr No’s cold, calculated nature makes him truly terrifying,” noted Paul Michael Kane.
  • Mr Big: Known for his ruthless nature and control over his criminal empire. “Mr Big’s ruthlessness and power are truly intimidating,” said Dave Johnson.

Best supporting characters

The supporting characters in Fleming’s novels add depth and richness to the stories. Here are the favourites:

  • Felix Leiter: Bond’s CIA counterpart and friend, Leiter’s camaraderie with Bond is cherished by fans. “Felix is a professional and a good friend to Bond,” said Adrian Werner.
  • Tracy di Vicenzo: Bond’s love interest in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, her character adds emotional depth to the series. “Tracy’s relationship with Bond is beautifully tragic,” noted John Chapman.
  • Quarrel: Bond’s loyal ally in Live and Let Die and Dr No, Quarrel’s bravery and local knowledge are highly appreciated. “Quarrel is the best inside man ever,” commented Dave Johnson.

Best short stories

In addition to the novels, Fleming’s short stories also garnered significant attention in the survey. Here are the top-ranked short stories:

1. The Living Daylights

By far the most popular short story was The Living Daylights, which depicts Bond’s moral struggle during a sniper mission.

Romey T Keys: “The Living Daylights has a great setting in the stripped down apartment building in Berlin. The battle between two snipers is a new plot for an espionage story. It shows Bond’s boredom and his interaction with someone from a station. The limited action and the details of everyday life in a divided city captured my interest”.

Jed Fox: “It shows different facets of Bonds personality and psyche. Through his relationship with Captain Sender, the spicy German thriller he picks out, because of the ‘…spectacular cover of a half naked girl strapped to a bed…’!”

Michael Fricker; “There’s a mundane aspect of the waiting around Bond has to do. It’s not a glamorous life. But he gets by speculating about the cello player”.

2. Octopussy

Darryl Marsch: “I like the autobiographical allusions and I like that Bond demonstrates that he can read people and situations, giving the bad guy a way out when he didn’t really deserve one. I like the Octopus taking matters into all 8 of its hands. Fleming wrote it in the style of Somerset Maugham, a friend who he admired. It inspired me to read Maugham’s ‘Ashenden’ spy stories”.

MRCD07: “The whole back story of ill-gotten gains and the way the guy commits suicide is wild.”

Christopher Brochon: “It shows Bond in a very different light from all the others; at his most human”.

3. For Your Eyes Only

Double_O_Kev: “It has a connection to Canada and being Canadian I enjoyed reading about Bond visiting here”.

Mitch Schwartz: “For Your Eyes Only is a Bond novel in miniature”.

Dallas Kirkpatrick: “This one feels like an exciting short story without feeling like a novel with half of the pages missing”.

4. From A View to a Kill

From a View to a Kill is enjoyed for its espionage elements and the Parisian setting.

John Threlfall: “I love the simple Cold War concept of it, and the central motorcycle action is small-scale but very exciting & dramatic”.

5. Quantum of Solace

Quantum of Solace differs from the usual Bond fare, focusing more on a personal story shared during a dinner conversation.

Gary J Hindle: “It’s gentle story reflecting colonial Britain of the time, with an unexpected end”.

6. The Hildebrand Rarity

The Hildebrand Rarity is appreciated for its unique plot and the environmental theme, which was ahead of its time.

James: “I like The Hildebrand Rarity as it takes Bond to Africa a little explored location throughout the novels. It also has a simple premise that is fully explored in the story, compared to some of the others it does not feel like the start of a plot”.

7. Risico

Risico stands out for its vivid portrayal of the Italian setting and the complex relationship between Bond and his informants.

One respondent notes: “It packs a full novel’s worth of story, characters, twists and turns, a proper mission, into one short story”.

8. 007 in New York

007 in New York offers more of Fleming’s personal touch and a glimpse into Bond’s day-to-day life.

_M_: “Fine Bond idiosyncrasies, tastes, great plot twist and fine recipe”.

9. The Property of a Lady

The Property of a Lady stands out for its auction house setting and the suspense around the bidding war.

Top 10 continuation novels

Ian Fleming’s legacy has been carried forward by several authors who have penned continuation novels, ensuring that James Bond’s adventures continue to thrill new generations of readers. These authors have brought their own unique styles and narratives to the Bond series, while staying true to the core elements that make Bond stories so compelling. Based on general fan feedback and survey responses, here are the top 10 continuation novels.

1. Colonel Sun

Leading the count by a large margin is Kingsley Amis’s Colonel Sun, is celebrated for its well-crafted plot and staying true to Fleming’s style. The novel pits Bond against a new adversary, Colonel Sun Liang-tan of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army, in a story filled with intrigue and action.

2. Trigger Mortis

Anthony Horowitz’s first Bond novel is set in the 1950s and incorporates previously unpublished material by Fleming. Bond must thwart a Soviet plot against a British racing driver, blending high-speed thrills with espionage.

3. Forever and a Day

Horowitz followed up Trigger Mortis with this prequel to Casino Royale, which delves into Bond’s first mission as 007, providing a fresh perspective on his origins while maintaining the classic elements of a Bond story.

3. Licence Renewed

John Gardner revived James Bond in the 1980s, modernising the character while keeping his core attributes intact. Bond faces a new villain, Anton Murik, in a thrilling adventure that reintroduced him to contemporary audiences.

5. Carte Blanche

Jeffrey Deaver’s modern take on Bond sees him working for a new organization with a license to kill in the 21st century. The novel combines high-tech espionage with classic Bond action.

6. Devil May Care

Set during the Cold War, Sebastian Faulks’ single Bond novel captures the essence of Fleming’s Bond while adding Faulks’ literary flair. Bond battles a megalomaniacal chemist bent on global domination, in a story that blends classic and contemporary elements.

7. For Special Services

Gardner has Bond team up with Felix Leiter’s daughter, Cedar, to take on the revived SPECTRE organization. The novel is praised for its fast-paced action and complex plot.

8. Icebreaker

Bond is sent by Gardner to join a covert team to infiltrate a neo-Nazi organization. The novel’s intense action and icy setting make it a memorable entry in the series.

9. Solo

Set in 1969, this novel sees Bond undertaking a solo mission in Africa. William Boyd’s portrayal of Bond is both classic and refreshing, blending action with political intrigue.

10. Zero Minus Ten

This novel takes Bond to Hong Kong, where he must prevent a terrorist attack on the eve of the city’s handover to China. Raymond Benson’s debut Bond novel is noted for its detailed setting and thrilling plot.

The unstoppable saga of James Bond

Our survey has provided detailed insights into the preferences and passions of Bond fans. The rankings of the best novels, moments, villains, and short stories showcase the varied elements that make the James Bond series a timeless treasure. From the emotional depth of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service to the Cold War intrigue of From Russia With Love, Ian Fleming’s original works continue to engage and excite readers worldwide.

The continuation novels have maintained the spirit of James Bond, with each author adding their distinctive touch to the series. Kingsley Amis’ Colonel Sun and Anthony Horowitz’s Trigger Mortis are just a few examples of new adventures that have expanded Bond’s world while honouring the core elements that fans appreciate.

Recognising Fleming’s creation and the contributions of later authors, it’s evident that Bond’s adventures will keep readers enthralled for years to come. The enduring appeal of James Bond lies in his ability to adapt and remain relevant in a constantly changing world, proving that the saga of 007 is unstoppable.

David Leigh founded The James Bond Dossier in 2002. A fan of 007 since the age of 8, he is also author of The Complete Guide to the Drinks of James Bond. You can order a copy here if you don't own it already.

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