My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Original Publication Year: 2000
Genre(s): Thriller, YA
Series: Alex Rider #1
Format: Audio (digital from Library)
Narrated By: Nathaniel Parker
I recently read one of Anthony Horowitz’s grown-up books (House of Silk) which I really enjoyed. He is/was also a writer on the BBC mini-series Foyle’s War which I also really enjoy. Upon investigation, I discovered that much of his writing has been in juvenile fiction and that his most popular series, focused on 14 year old Alex Rider, is made up of spy thrillers. What the hell. I’m game.
The most succinct summary I can give is James Bond as a 14 year old. This is flippant but it’s also pretty accurate. I do think Horowitz’s intent was to write James Bond novels for young adults, complete with larger than life, eccentric villains who like to kill people in elaborate and generally ridiculous ways.
The circumstances that lead 14 year old Alex into being recruited by MI-6 are as plausible as they possibly could be - suspension of disbelief was stretched but not completely overrun. Unbeknownst to Alex, his uncle and legal guardian is a spy and he has been grooming Alex for this profession since he was a small child. So Alex isn’t your typical 14 year old and when his uncle dies in a way that doesn’t make sense to him, he begins to investigate which brings him to the attention of MI-6. And they just happen to need a teenage operative….
From there on out this is an action packed, James Bond style spy thriller adventure with gadgets and ATV chases and scuba diving through flooded mine shafts. It’s all pretty well done but it never did really suck me in. I don’t know that it’s the fault of the book so much as that I am not its target audience. Alex is never really developed much as a character. He is pretty emotionless and fearless with very few hidden depths beyond some pretty astonishing abilities for a 14 year old. I like the James Bond movies as entertainment but until the most recent incarnations where we start to see James Bond as a man and not just as an uber suave super spy with a penchant for martinis, they weren’t much more than couple hour thrill rides. I probably would not be a big fan of the James Bond novels. As it is, this book passed in and out of my life pretty quickly and without making much of an impression.
However, I did make a point of recommending it to my sister as possible reading for my 14 year old nephew who likes books with lots of action. If you are or know someone who wants that type of fiction – this series would likely be a really good fit.
Final Verdict: Mildly entertaining and would likely be even more so for a younger person who likes action packed books. May pick up the others in the series but not definite.
I think this was a surprise to me that I didn't love it because I think of myself as someone who likes spy thrillers. But apparently I don't love them. I love characters and these books are usually focused on the action. By these books, I mostly mean my only other spy thriller read (that I can remember) which is the first in the Bourne series. Do you have any spy thrillers that you'd recommend that are character driven? I know John LeCarre is considered to be really good - if you've read him how would you characterize his books?