‘Stormbreaker’ (Alex Rider #1) by Anthony Horowitz – light, fast, fun that is irresistibly cheesy.

‘Stormbreaker’ was everything I expected it to be: a fast-paced, action-oriented, teen-spy adventure with operatically bad baddies, a megalomanic plot that the main evil baddy monologues to the captive, soon-to-die (yeah, like anyone who has seen a Bond movie expects that to happen) hero and lots of chases and exploding vehicles and a finale where our hero grandstands in an iconic London location.

I liked the start of the story best. Alex’s investigation into his uncle’s death and his encounters with the British Secret Service were fresh and engaging.

Alex’s first assignment lacked any of that originality. It was a clone of a standard James Bond plot. It worked because it was done with a completely straight-face. A sort of, ‘You didn’t complain when Fleming did this, so give me a break‘ attitude that I liked. The plot becomes rapidly more and more absurd and lines more and more cheesy (my favourite was the evil assassin telling Alex, ‘Killing is for grown-ups. You are just a boy.’) but it worked because it had had ‘Suspend Disbelief All Yea Who Enter Here’ written at the top of every page. The reader is invited to relax and enjoy the ride.

Perhaps the most credible part of the plot was that the whole nation was put at risk by the ego of a Prime Minister who had been a bully at school, was still a bully now and had such a large majority that everyone felt obliged to laugh at his lame humour. There’s realism for you.

A couple of things caught me by surprise:

  • The good guys weren’t very nice. Alex isn’t recruited into spying for the British government, he’s Shanghaied. I found this quite convincing. There’s a sign of the times for you.
  • It seemed odd to me that Alex Rider kept referring to his dead uncle by his full name, even in his thoughts. It made Alex seem a little cold-blooded, something that was reinforced by an absence of grief from the beginning..
  • The persistence of a World War II German baddy stereotype who, although fluent in English, still uses the odd German phrase and introduces herself as ‘Fraulein Vole’. Who does that? At any moment I expected her to say ‘Hande hock, Englischer schweinhunde’.

‘Stormbreaker’ was a few hours of light, fast, fun with enough promise to make put the series on my ‘comfort read’ list. I’m told the plots get better. I hope that the speed and lightness of tone are maintained.

I recommend the audiobook version. I think Oliver Chris did a good job with the narration. Click on the SoundCloud link below to hear a sample.

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