Stormbreaker

Stormbreaker

I already took a look at the work of Anthony Horowitz a few months ago when I reviewed The Falcon’s Malteser but today I’ve decided to focus on what is arguably his most popular series. The Alex Rider series follows the adventures of a fourteen year old boy as he is recruited into the MI6. At the time of writing spans ten novels – Stormbreaker (2000), Point Blanc (2001), Skeleton Key (2002), Eagle Strike (2004), Scorpia (2004), Ark Angel (2005), Snakehead (2007), Crocodile Tears (2009), Scorpia Rising (2011) and Russian Roulette (2013) – as well as several short stories and supplementary books. For the purpose of this review, I will be focusing on Stormbreaker only.

When Alex Rider is told that his Uncle Ian has been killed in a car accident he immediately releases that something is afoot. His uncle was always safety conscious, especially in regards to wearing seatbelts, and so never would have died in such a way. He knows that the manager of the bank where his uncle worked must be lying to him. He just needs to find out why.

As he investigates into Ian’s death, Alex soon discovers that his suspicions were correct. His uncle was actually a spy for the MI6 and was gunned down while investigating a billionaire named Herod Sayle. Sayle has made his fortune by creating a powerful and cheap desktop computer called the Stormbreaker and has recently become popular across the nation by promising to gift one of the machines to every secondary school. The MI6 were suspicious of his generosity before, but Ian’s death has lead them to realise that Sayle must be up to something dangerous.

Realising that Sayle would now be suspicious of another adult operative, the MI6 recruit Alex into their ranks and pass him off as a boy who has won a contest to be the first person to try out a Stormbreaker in order to gain him access to Sayle’s headquarters. Once inside, Alex is placed in more danger that he has ever been in his life. The fate of every school child in England may hinge on his success but if he is caught he knows that he is likely to meet the same fate as his uncle…

Stormbreaker is a fantastically enjoyable novel. It’s fast paced, action packed and full of suspense. The book reads like a young adult homage to James Bond and thus contains all of the cheesy stereotypes that makes the pre-Daniel Craig era Bond films so enjoyable. We have the sophisticated yet utterly mad villain with a tank full of dangerous marine animals (in this case a Portuguese man-o’-war) in his living room; the mute and visually distinct henchman; the gadgets in the shape of everyday objects; and, the hero who is able to spout pithy one-liners in the face of death. There is even a very cute reference to Bond’s friend in the CIA, Felix Leiter, in the alias that Alex uses when he meets Sayle for the first time.

Like the James Bond series, Stormbreaker is filled with action sequences that could have been dark and violent but instead manages to keep its tone light and entertaining. Alex does not even carry a gun, forcing him to find inventive ways to defeat the bad guys without resorting to lethal measures. However, in order to appreciate the plot you really do need to maintain a healthy sense of disbelief. There is so much in novel that does not exactly in-keep with a realistic world view if you think about it too hard. Alex is very quick to fall upon the fact that his uncle has been murdered. By this I mean that it is his very first thought, not entertaining the accidental death angle for even a moment. The amount of training required to become a spy is also far shorter than one would imagine. Apparently spy training can be completed in a mere fourteen weeks, yet Alex manages to gain sufficient training to foil an international terrorist within a matter of days.

Sayle’s ultimate plan also manages to be, in equal parts, brilliant and utterly surreal. While I can’t help but admire the rather original lengths that he goes to implement his scheme, the reasoning behind it is nothing short of bizarre. I’m not going to spoil it here (it really needs to be read to be believed) but needless to say that his actions seem a tad excessive in light of it.

When it comes to characterisation, there is not that much to say. Other than Alex and Sayle, there are not many other major characters in the novel. The background characters do not get a lot of page time at all. I thought that Jack was going to be a more significant character due to her presence in early chapters and the fact that we were told that Alex considered her to be his best friend but she disappears from the story as soon as Alex discovers that Ian was a spy. It left me wondering she was doing all the while that he was infiltrating Sayle’s operation. Presumably the MI6 must have told her something to explain his disappearance. If not, she was the least attentive housekeeper ever.

Joking aside, the lack of a strong female presence in the novel was somewhat of a disappointment. The only other two female characters were Ms Jones, assistant to the MI6 operative who recruits Alex, and Fraulein Vole, Sayle’s Rosa Klebb-esque henchwoman. I really hope that we actually get a decent female character in the next novel as this one is a bit of a sausage fest in the end.

With regards to the primary male characters – Alex and Sayle – there is also not much to say. Sayle is a classic Bond villain – flamboyant, cruel and prone to monologuing his entire evil plan before leaving his nemesis fastened in a trap that will certainly kill him (instead of, you know, just shooting him in the head). Beyond this there is no real depth to him and it is certainly impossible to empathise with his past in anyway once you learn what he has planned.

Alex is, simply, wish fulfilment for the author. I don’t think it’s rude to say that, given that Horowitz openly admits it in the acknowledgements. Alex is a Gary Stu of the worst degree, possessing no notable character traits or personality other than the ability to spout witticisms and somehow outsmart trained soldiers again and again. While he possesses the personality of James Bond (albeit seemingly less fitting when it is attributed to a teenager), he lacks all of Bond’s weaknesses. No martinis, smoking or women for Alex Rider. Instead, he just comes across as being a paragon of courage and justice. He does not even emote when his uncle dies, not even for a page! Unfortunately, I only empathised with him over the villain because he seemed marginally less insane.

So, what’s the verdict? Well, if you’re able to suspend all disbelief while reading I think you’ll find that Stormbreaker is a lot of fun to read. It’s short and incredibly light, maintaining tension without ever becoming gritty or violent. However, it does suffer from some weak characterisation as the primary characters are essentially just a teenage James Bond and a stereotypical Bond villain. There is also a disappointing lack of female characters within the story which I really hope is rectified in future installments.

Stormbreaker can be purchased as a Paperback, eBook and Audio Book on Amazon.co.uk

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2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: The Recruit / Class A | Arkham Reviews
  2. Trackback: Point Blanc | Arkham Reviews

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