Publisher: Walker Books
Pages: 296 – including afterword (Paperback)
Series: Alex Rider #2
Alex Rider – you’re never too young to die…
MISSION 2: POINT BLANC
“Come on Alex…Why pretend to be an ordinary schoolboy any more?”
Fourteen-year-old Alex is back at school trying to adapt to his new double life … and double homework. But MI6 have other plans for him.
Armed only with a false ID and a new collection of brilliantly disguised gadgets, Alex must infiltrate the mysterious Point Blanc Academy and establish the truth about what is really happening there. Can he alert the world to what he finds before it’s too late?
High in the Alps, death waits for Alex Rider
I think this is the point where me and Alex Rider have to part ways. I thought the potential was there in the last book, the seeds of some good turn-you-brain-off fun were there and I gave it the benefit of a second chance for being the first book of a series. But with this second book I’m now totally convinced: Alex Rider just isn’t my thing. Maybe when I was a pre-teen, perhaps, but, for me, this isn’t one of those children’s or young adult books that is written in a way adults can enjoy as well. And, as much as I loathe gendered reading and saying ‘this is for boys, this is for girls’, it’s especially not written in a way for adult females to enjoy. I’m not going to say it’s not a great children’s book though – because there’s a lot to love if you are the target audience and if the target audience love it and it gets kids reading than that’s the main thing and I won’t say a word against that. But it’s not for me in a pretty big way.
Putting aside the totally ridiculous, insane, plot for a moment – it could have worked for me under a better writer – the main problem is the narration. Omniscient third person with little informative asides about how the technology behind certain things work and how that applies to what Alex is doing/about to do. I suppose it’s necessary for the story he wants to tell, there are several scenes of the evil villains in their lairs, the MI6 back home that would be impossible to tell from a first person or third person-limited. What it does do though is create a distance between the reader and the main character – hell any of the characters. It’s all tell and no show ‘Alex felt this’, ‘Alex did this’ without ever really feeling that I know who Alex even is or anything about what actually makes him tick. My favourite example would have to be ‘‘The words were cold and absolute and Alex felt the fear that they triggered‘ – I mean…how hard would it have been to make that sentence about Alex’s feelings? He sounds like some creepy automaton at least half the time in this book. The only thing we’re ever shown is action and the characters only exist in the most sketched-out half-arsed way to deliver that action. I thought perhaps, in the last book, Howitzer needed a bit more time to get properly into his characters but after this book I just don’t think he cares.
Even when Alex is apparently reacting in a human way he comes off as a psychopath. The book pretty much opens with an anvilicious ‘selling drugs to secondary school pupils is bad’ lesson (a lesson I think all pre-teens need to learn) where Alex chases down a drug dealer (apparently his best friend who we’ve never heard of before and can’t imagine we’ll hear of ever again has been hooked and Alex is out for revenge), decides he’d rather take care of it himself than call the police, and recklessly endangers the lives of possibly hundreds of people as he causes thousands of pounds worth of property damage breaking almost every bone in the drug dealers body. Eugh… maybe I’d have found this a fun scene if I was a child though. And if he’s not being a psychopath he’s whining (sometimes he even does both at the same time). The book opens with him moping and upset because everyone thinks he’s a wuss for taking two weeks off for ‘flu’ during the last book and he’s sad because he can’t tell them that he was actually being a spy. The teachers aren’t sympathetic and his friend’s think two weeks for illness is excessive. Except that that concept is ridiculous – teachers will be sympathetic to somebody taking two weeks from school right after their guardian has died (of course Alex himself got over it in approximately two seconds, but his teachers probably don’t know that). They might not understand why nobody contacted the school for support but they’re not going to be frowning and disapproving when he comes back – or at least none of the teachers I have ever had reacted that way to children whose parents had recently died and needed time off. Eugh…adult-me just can’t even deal with how stupid the set up and characterisation is even before we get to the evil villain stuff! Not a good sign.
Unfortunately there’s more stupid to go through before we get to the evil villain stuff too: a stay in the country with a posh family and Alex’s first ‘Rider Girl’. If I tell you that she’s introduced (in a bikini) with the following words it’ll probably tell you enough: ‘Her body was well shaped, closer to the woman she would become than the girl she had been. She was going to be beautiful. That much was certain. The trouble was, she already knew it’. Again the problem of third person omniscient narration – this would have sounded far less creeptastic written from Alex’s point of view (either first person or third person limited) where it would have been less about the transition from a child and just about finding a girl of his own age attractive. As it stands it sounds like an adult narrator trying not to sound too pervy and coming off even worse for it ‘oh she’s not beautiful now, she’s only a teenager, but when she grows up… ‘ Not creepy at all! And note how she’s obviously a ‘bad’ person. She knows she’s beautiful so she must be a bitch. Give me a fucking break. Of course she then proceeds to be a bitch, quelle suprise, but falls for Alex anyway. Yawn.
I was almost grateful when the real plot finally got going and Alex got whisked away for ridiculously unbelievable spy shenanigans. And when I say ridiculous I mean it. I’m not going to spoil the details of the big evil plot but it’s totally insane. Oh and the villain is an evil albino South African with an ugly South African henchwoman (described as a ‘muscle-bound freak of nature’ by Howitzer in the afterword) who wants to bring back apartheid. I’m honestly not sure whether to be glad some children will at least learn about apartheid for the first time and hopefully start asking questions, or to head-desk at the execution.
But onto the good. The action scenes are still fun, though they’ve lost a lot of their tension now that Alex is such a Mary Sue. In my review of the last book I said Howitzer did a good job of making you almost fear for Alex’s safety – but I didn’t feel that any more here, even when the situations were much more dangerous. If you just want a children’s action adventure book though it’s pretty solid. There’s snowboarding, chimney crawling, men with guns and all sorts.
Overall though, while I could see the appeal to the target audience, I simply didn’t like this book and couldn’t even enjoy it much when I ‘switched my brain off’. I am glad my library gave me the tenth anniversary edition with the afterword by Howitzer though. It was enlightening. And again I’m not sure whether to be grateful or to head-desk that he is aware of the potential for reading racism into his books (even though he doesn’t intend them to be racist), and that he realises how problematic his practice of giving disabilities to the villains is. I mean good, he is aware of the issues and is discussing them, but unless that awareness actually translates into trying to improve his handling of these elements in future books it means precisely jack. The afterword also furnished me with a basic overview of the rest of the Alex Rider books, and a glimpse into some of his favourite James Bond villains – which leads me to quite confidently say that I don’t think either series will ever be for me.