When his guardian dies in suspicious circumstances, fourteen-year-old Alex Rider finds his world turned upside down. Forcibly recruited into MI6, Alex has to take part in gruelling SAS training exercises. Then, armed with his own special set of secret gadgets, he's off on his first mission to Cornwall, where Middle-Eastern multi-billionaire Herod Sayle is producing his state-of-the-art Stormbreaker computers. Sayle has offered to give one free to every school in the country - but there's more to the gift than meets the eye.
Reviewed on 4th March 2012
The first entry in Horowitz's Alex Rider series sets up the orphaned character as an unwilling agent of MI6, sent in where adults have failed to discover the secret of a Cornish computer factory.
Of the spate of recent teenage spy series that have cropped up over recent years, this is probably one of the best - the set-up is quickly dealt with and easy to understand and the plot dives into action early on, keeping up quite a frenetic pace throughout. It seems to be aimed at a slightly younger audience than some of the other stories of the genre that I've read (eg Charlie Higson's Young Bond) and the choice of language reflects this.
There are elements though that make it feel like a parody in places - it does borrow a lot from the James Bond tradition of spy novels - the disfigured enemy, the 'tell them the whole plan' speech, the aquarium, the Q scene - which in places almost brushes against being a parody rather than something original.
Some aspects of the plot seem a little dated now, just twelve years later, and I wonder if the books of the modern era can be as timeless as those from before - in these days of fast technological revolution will a word with early computers and few mobile phones be as approachable as the pre-computer-era stories of Enid Blyton, Ian Fleming, PG Wodehouse and so on have remained.
Overall I found it an enjoyable read, although I did get through it rather quickly - and despite that I perhaps read faster than the target audience I remember as a child myself being frustrated when I could get through a new book in one day (some of the later Hardy Boys stories, for example). I'll be interested to get hold of the sequels.