For much of my childhood I was in love. Deep, passionate, burning – basically every clichéd adjective you can think of to describe love.
But it wasn’t a floppy haired, tank topped boy band singer who caught my attention, or even the spiky haired paper boy who cycled past my window everyday. This was Alex Rider, the fictional star of Anthony Horowitz’s teen spy book series (and no, I’m not talking about the pretty boy Alex Pettyfer who stars in the film). Effortlessly cool, with fair hair and serious brown eyes, Alex had a knack for getting out of the trickiest of situations book after book – and I lapped it up.
After a gap of many years, I read the newest books in the series, finishing with the latest, Scorpia Rising.
Anyone who was into Alex Rider remembers the ‘Golden Age’. The ‘Golden Age’ started with Stormbreaker and ended with Scorpia, the cliff hanger to Scorpia genuinely moving me to tears, besotted 14 year old that I was. Although heartbreaking, the ending to Scorpia provided a kind of closure, a different ending to the fairytale ones that we as children had to grow out of eventually. Then Ark Angel came along, asking us to suspend our disbelief that little bit more and accept that Alex could go into space. Right. Next came Snakehead and Alex’s luck seemed just that little too convenient, as well as a slightly boring and uninventive storyline about Chinese gangs.
Fast forward to 2011, and in Easter holiday boredom I read the two latest books that I missed out on, Crocodile Tears and Scorpia Rising, the latter having only just been released. Approaching them with a faintly patronising air, I prepared myself to be disappointed. Surely my grown up, Shakespeare and Ovid-acquainted nineteen year old self would find these ludicrous and childish? Scorpia Rising is the big finish, the end of an era, the last Alex Rider book (although Horowitz will be writing a background to our favourite Russian assassin Yassen Gregorovitch pretty soon). But although all the elements of a classic Alex Rider yarn were there, I was left underwhelmed. Where was the impossible escape, like the classic “tight-rope between skyscrapers” in Ark Angel? Julius Grief provided the creepy, unhinged Alex clone as a baddy, but in the end there were no giant revelations, cliff-hangers or twists that made Alex so great.
But this is my adult, critical, English literature brain talking. Turn on the nostalgic childlike portion of my brain and wham – I was drawn in completely, relishing the familiar characters and Alex’s ready wit all over again. Horowitz’s genius is the understated, engaging manner in which he writes, not pandering to patronising his young audience, but writing with a quiet assurance that there are horrors in the world and sometimes young people have to face them.
In Alex he has achieved a difficult feat – creating a character that is so super cool, so assured, so mature beyond his years yet still managing to get people to relate to him. I am probably biased in my nostalgic love of him, but judging by the book series’ success, many people feel the same way. Bravo Horowitz. Truly the end of an era.
Originally published on The Yorker 24th April 2011