Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Let's start as we mean to go on...

And winner of the first official review/recommendation prize is...

Anthony Horowitz with Alex Rider!

Well, let's face it. Who doesn't want to join MI6, save the world on a weekly basis, be fluent in several languages and be able to be moody and teenage at the same time? Alex Rider is one of the biggest hits of the past decade, and rightfully so. As well as this series, Horowitz has also written various Horowitz horrors, Groosham Grange, the Diamond Brothers and the Power of Five series, all of which deserve recommendations for one thing or another. But let's start with the superspy.

This series starts with one of the best opening lines I have ever read. 'When the doorbell rings at three in the morning, it's never good news'. Now, if that doesn't hook you in, I don't know what will. But we're not talking false promises here.

Stormbreaker, the first book in the series, is filled with gadgets, weaponry and an array of vehicles more unlikely than the last (from quad bikes to submarines), super villains with terrifying sidekicks, obligatory foreign accents and dastardly plots to destroy England. Alex is the 14 year old unwilling spy who finds himself roped into a covert operation by MI6, undergoes SAS training and has to save the world.

It's not a series for fainting flowers, but that said, it's not that scary. There are a few incidents that could be frightening, but apart from the usual spy fodder of high speed chases, guns, and the occasional wild animal there's nothing to really chill the blood until you get to Eagle Strike, the fourth book in the series, and even then it's not too bad.

One of the best things about the series is the level and depth of the research that Horowitz has done. You're not often required to suspend disbelief, and he even used his teenage son's experiences of things like snowboarding to give him a better idea. However, I've been told by a few people that they find the level of detail that Horowitz goes into a little overwhelming at times, and there are places when the books read like a Haynes Manual (it's never an aeroplane, it's a 'single engine Cessna Skyhawk SP'), but to be honest, this is part of the charm. Even when Horowitz is throwing jargon about like there's no tomorrow, he manages to keep the flow of the story going. For my part, as a girl reading it, I found it a little lacking in realistic characters, but then that's par for the course with spy novels. There's enough dry humour to keep the parents going, and it's not a book that ever makes concessions for its audience, which is important to a lot of kids.

Obviously, as the book has more than a hint of Ian Fleming, there are girls with such names as Sabina Pleasure and Fiona Friend, and they inevitably play a part. But there's nothing more than kisses so we're not talking unsuitable.

I'd recommend the Alex Rider series for kids of about 10 or 11 who are fairly resilient and good readers, maybe older if they're not keen on mild gore or find reading difficult. It's great for reading together, with chapters often ending with nice one-liners, and this might circumvent some of the problems of detail or difficult words. On the whole, this series is usually a winner for reluctant readers, especially boys, and since Stormbreaker has been made into a live-action movie and graphic novel, there are more ways to get into the series. Some of the later books don't have the easy charm of the earlier ones, but all said, it's definitely a series worth getting into.

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