Point Blanc

Point Blanc

Please note that this review may contain spoilers for Stormbreaker. You can read my review of this novel [here].

Point Blanc was written by Anthony Horowitz and first published in 2001. It’s the second book in the massively popular Alex Rider series, preceded by Stormbreaker (2000) and followed by Skeleton Key (2002), Eagle Strike (2004), Scorpia (2004), Ark Angel (2005), Snakehead (2007), Crocodile Tears (2009), Scorpia Rising (2011) and Russian Roulette (2013). The series follows Alex Rider, a fourteen year old boy who is recruited by the MI6 to undertake missions that would be impossible for adult operatives.

Following the defeat of Herod Sayle, Alex wanted nothing more than to return to his normal life. However, Blunt has other ideas. Two billionaires have died in mysterious accidents and the only link between them is that their children attended the same school. Point Blanc is an elite academy hidden deep in the French Alps that claims to be able to reform even the most troubled of teenager. The MI6 fear that this might be the front for something more sinister.

Alex assumes the identity of Alex Friend – the delinquent son of a wealthy supermarket tycoon – and enrols at the academy. Once there, he’s surprised to find just how strange the school is. It’s run by two mysterious people – the creepy Professor Grief and his weightlifting assistant Mrs Stellenbosch – and all the boys exhibit the same weird body language. Only one boy – James Sprintz – seems to have the same concerns as Alex and is determined to escape but this seems impossible – Point Blanc is at the top of a dangerous mountain and Professor Grief has confiscated every set of skis.

As James starts to behave more like the other boys, Alex realises that the MI6 were right to suspect that something is wrong. He’s tempted to abort the mission and get himself to safety but he knows that he can’t abandon the other boys. He needs to find evidence of what Grief is up to before it’s too late and he becomes like all the rest…

Point Blanc is a really fun second instalment of the Alex Rider series. It’s still very easy to read, action packed and filled with humour (and the occasional James Bond reference). I don’t think I found it quiet as entertaining as Stormbreaker but it was a little less surreal. This time, Horowitz takes a lot more time building up the mystery of just what the villain is up to. While you know that Professor Grief has to be a bad guy (with a name like that, how could he not?), it takes a long time for him to monologue his plan to Alex. When he does, it’s actually pretty decent. I won’t spoil it for you here but let’s just say that he’s put more thought into it than Herod Sayle did with his deadly computers.

The only think that I really found frustrating about Horowitz’s writing was his odd emphasis on insignificant details. Particularly when it came to machines or gadgets, Horowitz was quick to describe the model and features of an object in great detail. For example:

The chauffeur-driven Rolls Royce Corniche cruised along a tree-lined avenue, penetrating deeper into the Lancashire countryside, its 6.75 litre light pressure V8 engine barely a whisper in the great green silence all around.

I personally found the focus of paragraphs like this to be really grating. What significance to the type of engine have on this story? The car isn’t important. It doesn’t even appear after this page. As a fourteen year old boy, I’m not sure that even Alex would have been interested in a Rolls Royce (they’re hardly the sort of cars that teenagers would like). I know it’s a stylistic thing and perhaps some readers would like it, but it was a real irritation for me.

This novel also isn’t one to read if you’re a stickler for realism. While the book is a spy thriller, the science presented in the story is pretty weak. The things that Grief dabbles in are absolutely impossible with our current levels of technology and so I would be tempted to actually describe this story as being science fiction in places.

You also have to be able to suspend your disbelief pretty far and accept that Alex has even better improvisation skills than MacGyver. In one scene, he builds his own snowboard by cutting up an ironing board. He then uses this to tackle a black run, despite the fact that he’s only ever taken a beginner’s snowboarding class before. If you can ignore the sheer unlikeliness of this happening, it’s actually a pretty fun sequence but I know that some readers just won’t gravitate towards this level of absurdity. If you’re looking for a more realistic spy story, I’d recommend trying Muchamore’s CHERUB series instead.

The problems that I had with Point Blanc were largely the same as those I found while reading Stormbreaker and they’re primarily to do with the characterisation. Alex is still a huge Gary Stu – pure wish fulfilment for the author and any fourteen year old boy reading the story. He succeeds at everything he tries, is highly intelligent and a complete paragon of virtue. It’s the last of these that I found particularly annoying. Alex is selfless to a fault, whether it be rescuing teenagers from a mad scientist or defending his school from a drug dealer. He never really behaved like a real teenage boy. He was just a little too squeaky clean.

There are also no decent female role models in the story. Jack only makes a tiny cameo appearance at the end of this story and the two new girls that Alex meets are both terrible people. Fiona only appears at the start of the story and is just far too stuck up. A real daddy’s girl who fails to treat Alex like a human being, even after he saves her life. The other is Mrs Stellenbosch who is just really a running joke. Frequent references are made to how she’s ugly and looks like a man. Personally, I’m not a fan of this kind of humour. Cheap shots at a person’s appearance are never cool, even if that person is a villain. The lack of positive female representation in Horowitz’s books is still disappointing. Just because a book is targeted at boys does not mean that it shouldn’t contain interesting girls. I really hope that he fixes this in the next book.

Anyway, I don’t have much more to say. If you can suspend your disbelief, Point Blanc is a lot of fun. It’s a light read that’s full of action, gadgets and frantic mountain chases. I’ll definitely come back to this series in a future review because I’m eager to see where the MI6 will deploy Alex to next!

Point Blanc can be purchased as a Paperback, eBook and Audio Book from Amazon.co.uk

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