When I was assigned this post by Miss Mileto, I had no qualms, read a book from a genre of which i was inexperienced. I read a lot, what would be the problem?
I had forgotten how distracting the lure of procrastination can be!
In the time I had planned to read Stormbreaker, the first of Anthony Horowitz’s loved Alex Rider series, I believe I read three other books, always putting off the boy-spy novel for one reason or another. A week before this post was due, I relented, and borrowed the audiobook from our Library’s BorrowBox platform. Listening to a bit here and there while walking my dog, I made my way up to chapter 9 (of 17). I was intrigued, but not hooked. To me, it felt like a dated, though typical novel of the now flourishing “Boy-Spy” genre.
To paraphrase Mrs Weber of the Junior School Library on the action/adventure genre, in one of her genre-spotlights in the Junior School Newsletter, for the younger boys we have Jack Stalwart, boy-spy, and Zack Power boy-spy; middle primary has Derek ‘Danger’ Dale, boy-spy; while for the older boys, there is Alex Rider, boy-spy, and Henderson’s Boys, and C.H.E.R.U.B., agencies of, you guessed it! Boy-spies.
Pressed for time, with a deadline looming, I grabbed the graphic novel version of Stormbreaker and ploughed through, before sitting down, notes in hand to write this review.
I must note, that the differences between the original text and graphic novel threw me for a bit, and after a quick Google, I found that the 2006 graphic novel, instead of being based on the 2000 book, takes its inspiration from the 2006 film (rated 34% on Rotten Tomatoes…). Names are changed, technology is updated, and it seems, key points are, sadly, eliminated.
So I will base my review on the original, and note that I really do, intend to finish it!
Stormbreaker is, at its most base level, James Bond for teens, but, it is, to use a cliche, much more. Horowitz is truely deserving of all the praise he receives for being a master of Young-Adult literature. The novel is fast paced, yet detailed. Entertaining, somewhat gripping in parts, and an excellent start to the 12 book series.
Alex Rider is a 14 year-old, outwardly normal boy, living in London’s Chelsea with his Bank Manager uncle Ian Rider, and young housekeeper Jack Starbright. Ian has been Alex’s guardian since his parent’s sudden death some weeks after Alex’s birth. Ian’s career allows for some luxuries, extensive overseas travel, Martial Arts training etc. I’m sure you know where this is going! Ian is mysteriously killed in a ‘car accident’ in which Alex is told, he had failed to wear his seatbelt, a fact that is mentioned several times, as is Alex’s puzzlement, as reportedly Ian was vigilant about seatbelts.
One thing leads to another, and after looking into Ian’s unusual death, Alex ends up in the hands of Ian’s former employer, not the ‘Royal & General Bank’ but a division of MI6. Ian was, shockingly, a spy! And his trips overseas were not for Bank business, they were missions!!!
It seems that all of Alex’s luxuries, trips overseas, martial arts training etc, have perfectly prepared him for work as a spy. He can speak French, German and Japanese, is a first grade Dan, a Black Belt in Karate, well versed in scuba-diving, mountain climbing, white water rafting, abseiling. He is recruited to continue the work of his uncle, and infiltrate the factory of slimy, seedy, tech magnate Herod Sayle.
Sayle is described as needing a step stool in order to play snooker, heavily accented, employing a heavily scarred and tongueless butler Mr. Grin, and relating himself to his pet Portuguese Man’O’War, as an outsider, demanding respect, and very capable of a memorable death.
The technology in this novel is dated, Alex plays a Nintendo 64, and is given a modified Gameboy as a MI6 gadget. The Stormbreaker itself is a device that will be given to every school in the country as an act of generosity by Sayle, you can see where this is going, I initially thought ‘Computer virus’, but it is somewhat more dastardly!
Beyond the cliches, and dated tech and references, Stormbreaker has a decidedly human, genuine underside. Though appearing to have based his persona on a mish-mash of all Bond’s villains over the last few decades, Sayle’s evil comes from genuine childhood trauma, bullying, poverty, and the feeling of being an outsider that so many of us can relate to.
Horowitz is a truly excellent author, he builds characters wonderfully, he uses the cliches he needs in order to assist the reader. They wouldn’t be cliches if they didn’t work right?