| Saturday, March 28 2009 @ 07:43 PM EDT
|Okay the movie STORMBREAKER did not do well in the States but possibly overseas it did okay. It brought me to the books of the Alex Rider series by Anthony Horowitz. Now, there are plenty of great young adult, teen, and even children’s fiction out there. There’s so many and not all of the titles are good ones. A recent Peter Pan series was just awful and really did nothing to capture the spirit of the original classic. Read the original, it’s a dark fantasy far removed from Disney.
Spy kids and Cody Banks-like spies and James Bond Jr’s have been done to death and usually with a tongue in cheek with varied results. At best, they are funny and hilarious and have tongue in cheek. They do not have reasonable plots or darkly realistic characters and situations or reluctant heroes who do not care to be spies. This brings us to Alex Rider…
The stories are different. They are written for teens but adults can take solace in the rich vocabulary and the well researched settings. One can feel as if they are really in the Far East, Venice, Italy, Scotland, England, the Soviet Union, South America, and all the other strange and dangerous places on Earth that Alex finds himself in. For some reason, this writer speaks to me. His action sequences are well written, exciting, and well timed within each plot and they make sense. They are not action for action’s sake. And at times, it feels as if Alex can die at any time…and behind the scenes stuff, namely Horowitz’s comments, indicate that Alex can die…thus upping the danger content. There are twists and turns and stuff of mystery and some touches of science fiction, especially in books two and 7.
Each novel is well written, however I’ve noticed, that each successive novel is better than the last. Years after Alex’s parents died somewhat mysteriously, his uncle, who raised him, vanishes mysteriously. Alex looks into this (and in a scene that is bettered in the movie finds his uncle’s bullet riden car in a junkyard in a big fight/chase scene). STORMBREAKER brings Alex into the spy world, rather harshly. He does not want any part of it but decides, to protect the woman who helped raise him, to go along with it and also to find his uncle or his uncle’s killers…villains abound, chase sequences abound, crashes, fights, and lots of danger and fun but NO out and out comedy. These books are not satire, not comedy, and not safe…
The second book, if anything is more James Bond-ish than most of the others, with a raid on a snow covered castle base in another country where Alex goes undercover to find out the reason the teen sons of very wealthy and influencial men have been put into a boarding school within. A very intelligent assassin, seemingly trained by the Mission: Impossible team (The TV show NOT the action oriented movies); clones; and a madman ensue. Before all this, Alex has a run in with a rifle touting bully and a train while on a horse! Alex was sent to live with a family to train for the part of a rich rebellious teen. The novel seems over but in the end, there’s another climax happening. While not overused, Alex does make some quips of the James Bond variety. A pretty tense set of action sequences and kidnapped boys make this a winner.
The third book, SKELETON KEY, has so many things going on in it, it’s hard to describe, however it is a winner and even better than the first two books. To get away from an Asian gang that he foiled at Wimbledon and the Millenium Building, Alex teams with CIA agents to investigate vanishing agents near Cuba. Sharks, drug dealers, Russian Gen. Sarov, and is henchman are added to the mix. And all does not go well: Alex is captured and tortured and nearly cracks…and the henchman is…well, you have to read the book. Sarov lost his young son and in what is a really creepy development…takes an interest in Alex. Can he kill Alex if he has to? The Soviet Union and a real place that houses decaying nuclear submarines figure into the climax…really stunning and involving. This book introduces Sabina.
EAGLE STRIKE is even better. Damian Cray is a well loved peace maker, activist, charity giver, rich pop star….who’s insane. Maybe. The mystery deepens and sends Alex on adventure through several countries where he witnesses a man killed off by gold being dropped on him; a live game show with a spiked covered snake along with other death traps made just for him and others inside the villain’s strong hold. There’s a bullfight, the near death of someone close to Alex…and death. There’s one great bike chase going on, and Alex has an MI6 fitted bike. There is also a missile attack, murder at an airport, Aztec warriors, a plane crash while a fight is on, and the return of creepy villain Yassen, who knew Alex’s father and killed Alex’s uncle…maybe. Yassen seems to have a thing for Alex and may have had a thing for Alex’s dad, who saved his life on a mission. Yes, Alex’s dad may have worked for the enemy! If you get the books, it might be good to get the UK versions as things are changed in the US versions and not always for the better. For instance, Yassen saying he loved Alex’s father and “I love you too, Alex” are not in the US version. There seem to be many versions floating around. Action packed, tense and exciting. Alex’s friend Sabina gets captured, too.
In what is probably the fan favorite, SCORPIA, we get a creepy assassin with one major flaw facing off against Alex in a hot air balloon that can kill millions of children over London; Alex seemingly going to the other side and working to kill one of his friends at MI6 who may have ordered his father’s death; the true facts (as far as we know) about Alex’s father’s working for the other side; a multi national deadly organization for hire; a blackmailing of the US and if the US refuse millions of UK kids will die, and various deadly people working for the organization; Alex training with the enemy, and so much more. Alex is really pissed in this book but by the climax, so is the organization. Alex is rumored to die in this book…This book introduces his friend Tom, a white tiger, Tom’s brother…and many ways for Alex to die…
ARK ANGEL has Alex in hospital, strategically placed near the son of a multi millionaire who is targeted by killers. There are twists and turns aplenty, a few less gadgets but some interesting insect repellant/drawer, and an island. A sporting event of Football holds murder, Alex has to tight rope walk to escape a burning block of buildings, uses a hospital MRI to magnetize a villain, and races his friend’s father in a car. And that’s only the first half of the book. Without giving anything away, Alex also has to fly into space in a rocket…
SNAKEHEAD takes place in the far east and is rich in flavor for descriptions. Alex returns to Earth in a riveting well researched sequence. A returning enemy that Alex never met, a tsunami, people smuggling, underground fight clubs, rats, and betrayal also happen. Alex meets his godfather and finds out more about his father…and the deaths of both his parents. Alex also remeets some old friends from his training. Add into the mix a jungle adventure, and a human organ clinic in the middle of nowhere and you get the horror…having organs taken out of you while you kept alive. Alex almost gives up…in fact, he does. The responses of Alex mirror how a real teen might feel. Can he retire from his spy business?
There are also several short stories that are hard to track down, annoyingly. One is called SECRET WEAPON, another takes place during Alex’s first training in STORMBREAKER called RESISTANCE IN TRAINING. CHRISTMAS AT GUNPOINT takes place when Ian Rider, Alex’s uncle was still alive and secretly preparing Alex for spy training, going on holidays and taking up dangerous sports. Another is called ALEX UNDERGROUND. All in all these novels are really great.
There are also two guide books, one about Alex’s gadgets and his enemies’ and allies’ gadgets and one book about Alex’s missions with maps, schematics, and drawings of the various bases and vehicles used.
There are also great audio readings by a British actor who makes one feel as if one is living the adventure and he does he voices of each character. The last book on audio SNAKEHEAD has a different actor and he's pretty good too. Some of the short stories are on line and some have audios on line.