The "Alex Rider" Series
Attitude: Some Care Needed → Fairly Positive
In Brief: Attractive and mostly unobjectionable action-paced young spy stories. Occasional very mild references to a teenage girl's precocious interest in boys. General air of amorality among main characters.
Series: Alex Rider
Age Range: Young Teens
- Alex Rider is a 14-year-old schoolboy, averagely intelligent, and unwittingly trained by his uncle to become a spy. He's resourceful, if impetuous.
- Ian Rider is Alex's uncle whom we never meet because he dies before the beginning of the first book. He's brought Alex up after his parents' death and in his guise as an international businessman, has taken Alex to many places and taught him many things. In reality he worked for MI6.
- Jack Starbright is a 28-year-old American woman who is the Riders' housekeeper and who becomes Alex's guardian when his uncle dies. She is perhaps the only adult in the entire series who really worries about Alex and cares what happens to him, and what he is becoming.
- Sabina Pleasure is Alex's girlfriend, 15 years old, first appearing at Wimbledon in Skeleton Key, then reappearing in Eagle Strike, and referred to in Ark Angel. She's a witty and intelligent girl who manages to keep her head in a perilous situation. She's described as "much older than her fifteen years" and "the sort of girl who had probably swapped toys for boys before she hit eleven".
- Alan Blunt is the head of MI6 who brings Alex in to help out. He appears to have no qualms about using a 14-year-old boy in a dangerous situation.
- Mrs Jones is Blunt's second in command. She is more sympathetic towards Alex and does voice her misgivings about using him.
(synthesised) Alex Rider, in some spectacular set piece, (foils a robbery / spikes an evil plan / discovers a hidden plot), at which point MI6 then call him in to tell him that they'll tidy up whatever mess he left behind, but that it would be useful if he were to infiltrate (a computer game company / a Cuban holiday resort / the home of a suspiciously rich man) armed only with (explosive chewing gum / acidic toothpaste / a metal-detecting yo-yo). Despite Jack's telling him it's too dangerous and that he should leave the spy world behind, Alex goes for it. He's captured by the (Lebanese / Pop-star / Russian) rich maniac and his (deformed / scarred / variegated) and highly trained henchman, who — convinced that he has nowhere to run — tell him the plot. They then leave him (in a tank with a live octopus / dressed as a matador in a French bullring / trapped in a real-life computer game) so that he can escape and stage a last-minute rescue, involving (parascending into the Science Museum / snowboarding down a French mountain in a blizzard / travelling solo to an unmanned space station). At the end, Alex is angry with MI6 and swears never to work for them again.
There's a temptation to overanalyse when it comes to series like this. So I shall try to resist. But there are a few things which seem worth saying. Firstly, by and large, the series is recommendable in a mostly-harmless fills-the-time way: there is action and excitement, gadgets, set pieces, heroism, love-interest and megalomaniac plots galore. Although Sabina is quite happy to wear a bikini “made out of so little material that it hadn't bothered with a pattern”, there's no sensuality, merely the occasional kiss or hug.
Family: Alex has no family to speak of. His mother and father were killed, he's told, in a plane crash. His uncle brings him up but then dies as the series begins. And they were not what they seemed to be, either. Jack, who becomes his legal guardian, is as close as anyone gets to him, but is not really family. Mr Blunt and Mrs Jones are happy enough to use him for their purposes, citing the greater good of the country or the world. At the beginning of Skeleton Key, Alex is enjoying the sensation of being part of Sabina's family. That's soon to end although the irony is that in the same book, he has to pretend to be part of a family — the “mother” and “father” are CIA agents — and then the Russian General wants to adopt Alex to replace his dead soldier son. Once or twice a teacher tries to help him out, but in the end, the demands of the work he does for MI6 alienate him from nearly everyone except Jack. There is no-one else he can turn to for advice who really loves him and has his best interests at heart. Sabina knows the truth, but is ill-placed to advise him.
Amorality: Without reading too much into the plots, which are as flimsy as you expect from this genre, one thing which stands out is the amorality of the key players. Obviously, the rich megalomaniac who wants to blow up the world is a bad guy who needs to be stopped. There's a fairly clear-cut case of self-defence. But many other of Alex's actions, and the actions of various other secret service members are definitely questionable, and you won't find any real answers here. For example, it seems that Alex's father was a contract killer. Although there's more to the situation than meets the eye, he did indeed kill several people. Mrs Jones says in Scorpia: “I'm not saying these people deserved to die. But certainly the world was able to get along very well without them and I'm afraid your father had no choice.” The “no choice” refers to his allegiance to the organisation he worked for. This is not a simple situation, but it is presented as though it is.
Responsibility: On another level, Alex himself causes all sorts of mayhem but it's all fine because he's saving the world. One episode in particular occurs at the start of Point Blanc when Alex, acting on his own initiative (read: impetuously), follows a known drug-dealer to his houseboat hideout. Taking the law into his own hands, Alex commandeers a tower-crane, lifts the boat out of the water and drops it, accidentally, onto a new conference centre where a drug-awareness conference is in progress. Ironic, certainly, but the consequences? MI6 sweep under the carpet several million pounds worth of damage, plus charges of criminal damage, trespassing and theft, because they want Alex to infiltrate an exclusive school for the sons of rich men.
“So you see Alex, you never had a chance. And since you're strapped to this conveyor belt with only inches between you and those gruesome crusher wheels, I'm going to tell you my plan. And then I'm going to leave you to die.”
Friday 12th August 2005