Stormbreaker...a book review
By Anthony Horowitz
How would you like to read a nice juicy espionage novel – but meant for kids? I didn’t have many high expectations when I picked up young adult novel, ‘Stormbreaker’ to read on a long flight, but it’s nice to be pleasantly surprised.
The story opens at 3am with the ring of a doorbell at a house in West London, England. Never a good sign for anyone, let alone for fourteen-year old Alex Rider: not only is it an ominous portent but also a life-changing one. His uncle, Ian Rider, has been killed in a car accident. Or so Alex is told. During the flood of strange people in and out of Ian’s house, Alex soon realizes that he actually knows very little of whom Ian Rider really was. All is not what it seems. Ian Rider was all of the family Alex had: since Alex was orphaned at an early age and then been taken to live with his uncle.
So, Alex decides to find out what really happened to his uncle; and events, as well as MI-6, sweep him up into danger.
There is no way that the protagonist, Alex Rider, is a typical fourteen-year old kid. If you consider that most children of that age are generally self-absorbed, emotionally volatile, argumentative about restrictions and perceived rights and must-haves: narcissistic little darlings who don’t notice much outside of their own immediate universes. This may seem like an atypical response and judgement of today’s youth – particularly in America – but there are some two dimensional characters who exist like this in YA fiction, as well as unfortunately there are in real life. The character of Alex Rider is as far from this description as he is from even a normal child: his character has traits that belong to someone of more advanced years.
Alex is an enigma: portrayed as a young teen with a problem to solve, a truth to unearth, a death to presumably mourn and avenge, etcetera. However, Alex seems too adult in his behavior, and attitude; too good at too many things; and possessed of impeccable logic in one so young. There are a few token ‘teen’ things like forgetting his cover name at crucial moment when getting to know the villain Herod Sayle, allowing the evil genius an opening to become suspicious of Alex. It works as a convenient plot-device in context, and even allows Alex a human foible in accord with his age group, but the verbal slip is quite a glaring anomaly, given how Alex’s character is portrayed: careful, logical, and dogmatic even in his determination. This could be the result of the influence of Ian Rider on Alex’s life. From the initial moments of their life together, the elder Rider places Alex in a school where he can learn to hold his own, rather than a pampered existence in a more reputable institution. Alex learns karate, beginning at age six; he is taught orienteering, driving vehicles, athletics, hiking, mountain climbing, diving, and skiing; and from living abroad with his uncle, Alex speaks French, German and Spanish. Above it all, Alex has also picked up his uncle’s knack for observation and calculation. Blunt, the head of MI-6 muses and assumes that Ian Rider was training up his nephew to become a spy. Whether or not that is true, we’re not told, but figure that if anything happened to Ian, then he’d want Alex fully prepared to survive on his own – regardless if that were in a normal life, or the life of a spy. Alex uses all of his wits and skills in dealing with Mr Blunt of MI-6, in the face of Blunt’s blatant overt coercion of a minor (Alex) into dangerous duties as well as meeting and handling the missions he is forced to take on. Unfortunately, the hold that Blunt has over Alex smacks highly of ‘faganism’ and not a little of child abuse, in that Alex has to ‘earn his keep’ so to speak.
Alex is abnormally mature and well grounded for his years and makes an excellent junior spy. However, I think that Alex would benefit more as a character if the author could ‘show’ more than ‘tell’ what is going on in future novels.
‘Stormbreaker’ is an excellent read – even for adults. A refreshing plot and array of motives that steer a clear course around the usual clichés found in some young adult fiction. I’m sure that many young people will find this novel an exciting adventure, as from all reports, they already have.
‘Stormbreaker’ is the first of several Alex Rider adventures, and I very much look forward to reading the rest. Well written, well paced, and very well researched. Very well done Mr Horowitz.
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