Wednesday, December 06, 2006

At Amazon

Alex Rider Is Back! And His Life Is On The Line!

Fourteen-year-old super spy Alex Rider swings back into action in Point Blank, the second in the thus-far six-book series written by Anthony Horowitz. This time he’s matched against a South African madman, Dr. Grief, and his sadistic second-in-command, Mrs. Stellenbosch, who run an elite school high in the French Alps for trouble-making teenagers.

For those who may not know who Alex Rider is, he was dragged into the spy business by his uncle’s murder in the first book, Stormbreaker. Alex lost his parents in a tragic accident that hasn’t quite been explained, then raised by his uncle Ian, who Alex thought was a bank manager and led a very quiet, sedate life.

However, in that life Ian Rider also managed to see to it that Alex was raised very independently, taught how to drive, scuba dive, shoot, and fight in martial arts. As well as learning several languages. Looking back on his life at one point in the first book, Alex came to the surprising conclusion that he’d basically been trained to become a spy.

But not at 14.

In the first book, Alex was lured by Blunt, the taskmaster of MI6, the spy agency, and Mrs. Jones, his assistant, into avenging his uncle’s murder. When he’d turned them down, they’d blackmailed him by telling him they would send him away to foster care instead of staying with Jack Starbright, his live-in keeper. Alex had reluctantly gone along with the opportunity to go on a mission. After a few weeks of intensive training, Alex went out into the field and proved himself to be a natural spy and survivor.

After that mission, though, Alex told Blunt and Mrs. Jones that he never wanted to be a spy again.

Point Blank opens up with the exciting scenes readers have come to expect from Horowitz. A friend of Blunt’s is murdered by a mysterious assassin known as The Gentleman, and the murder is made to look like a terribly tragic accident. Before the man had died, though, he’d brought a matter to Blunt’s attention: a special school for boys of wealthy parents that promised to correct those boys’ bad behavior.

Meanwhile, Alex has discovered that going back to school after being a spy is hard. He’s bored. Nothing has the edge to it like it had when he was constantly in fear for his life. Spotting a drug dealer in action on the school grounds, Alex goes after the guy and his partner. The resulting action puts the bad guys into jail, but it also endangers Alex’s independence. He’s once more reliant on Blunt and Mrs. Jones to pull him out of trouble.

They want something in return, though. They want Alex to investigate the mysterious boarding school in France known as Point Blanc. When Alex becomes disagreeable, they again threaten him with taking his independence away. Having no real choice, Alex agrees to accept the mission.

Before he can go to Point Blanc, though, Alex has to adopt a new identity. He becomes Alex Friend, the recalcitrant son of a supermarket king who’s worth millions. Alex is just supposed to be there long enough to soak up some of the family history, but nothing ever comes easily to Alex. In not time at all, he’s nearly gunned down and almost hit by a fast-moving train.

Then he’s off to Point Blank to become a student, and he’s stepped into one of the most dangerous situations he’s ever been in.

Horowitz is an accomplished writer. Besides books for kids, he’s also written a few for adults. In addition to the Alex Rider series, Horowitz is currently working on a five-book series called The Gatekeepers, and a series off books about The Diamond Brothers, a pair of private investigators who get involved in wild adventures.

Horowitz also writes for BBC television. He contributed scripts to Midsomer Nights Murders, Hercule Poirot, and he created Foyle’s War.

In 2006, the first Alex Rider novel, Stormbreaker was made into a movie. It’s coming to DVD in December 2006.

I’ve read all of the books and am now reading them to my 9-year-old son for his AR program, which just proves how cyclical the books really are. I was introduced to them by a 12-year-old in one of the classes I taught on writing and fell in love with them. I’ve followed the books for the last four years, buying them from England because they came out there a year ahead of the American release. That appears to be changing since Alex Rider has become an international phenomenon.

The action and verbal sparring is suggestive of a young 007 (which is also being done at this point, but those books are set in the 1930s, making it a little hard for today’s readers to understand). The gadgets that are part of Alex’s arsenal are provided by Smithers, Alex’s own version of Q. So far they’ve included things like a yo-yo that could operate as a mechanized grappling hook. A Discman that had a saw CD that could cut through concrete walls. And an exploding earring.

Point Blank is loaded with a lot of over-the-top action that Horowitz deftly describes without missing a beat. Dr. Grief and Mrs. Stellenbosch are perfectly creepy villains. And the actual evil plot could have been ripped from today’s headlines.

My 9-year-old and I usually read 20 minutes a day in the morning while he has his breakfast before he goes to school. He had a hard time waiting between reading sessions because his active mind was constantly working to figure out how Alex was going to get out of his latest jam, and to figure out what was really going on.

Through all of the action, though, Alex emerges as a complete and unique character, despite the immediate comparisons to James Bond. Alex has his own troubles, and his parents’ deaths are mysteries that plague him and keep cropping up throughout the series. These are great books for adult readers as well as middle-graders. There simply isn’t enough of this stuff – this good – out there. If you haven’t discovered Alex Rider, this would be a great book to start with.

Especially if you see the movie and you and your kids want more teen spy action!

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