Tuesday, April 07, 2020

Happy Bookbirthday, Nightshade

Horowitz, Anthony. Nightshade (Alex Rider #12)
April 7th 2020 by Philomel Books
Copy provided by Cindy Mitchell of Kiss the Book

If you've never consulted the Kiss the Book blog, head over there immediately. They have WAY more reviews than I do (sometimes 1,000 a year!), and their blog predates mine. When Cindy saw on Twitter that I wanted to read this book but didn't have a copy, she sent me hers. How sweet is that? It was especially fun because I read it on 5 April, Mr. Horowitz's birthday.

Alex is settling back into school with his best friend Tom, trying to forget all of the missions he's been on in the last year and a half since his uncle died. Of course, Mrs. Jones needs him desperately. She makes the mistake of not telling him she is sending a car to pick him up and Alex's instinct to protect himself goes overboard in an effective but somewhat humorous way. Jack is not happy about Alex going back on a mission, especially when they find out what it is. There's been some criminal activity involving kids Alex's age, and in order to find out who is behind this, Alex is going to pretend to be Julius Grief and go to the super high security MI6 prison on Gibraltar. There, he will befriend Freddy Gray, who was stolen as a child, brainwashed, and turned into a ruthless, highly skilled killing machine. Alex has to study up on all of his doppelganger's activities and personal interactions with the other prisoners, as well as the way that Julius would have acted in all situations. With the help of a stuffed animal from Freddy's past, he manages to make a connection, and the two decide to escape. Alex manages to do this without killing all of the guards that Freddy wants to kill, and the two are soon back in Kavos Bay, Greece where 25 children like Freddy have all been carefully trained to be the operatives for Nightshade, a deadly organization with no mission of its own that works for hire for different nefarious groups. It takes a while, but Alex figures out the target of their Leap of Faith mission, and works to get himself involved so that he can stymie it. If he succeeds, will he be able to go back to being a typical teen, or will he put himself right in the center of Nightshade's target?
Strengths: The most brilliant part of the Alex Rider books is that they are written in a hard hitting, adult style that is incrementally tweaked to adjust to younger readers (for example, the print is still slightly larger than adult books). Horowitz is the master of writing the Reluctant Hero; we get tantalizingly small doses of Alex's ordinary life before he is taken off on yet another mission. Even though he is reluctant, he is fantastically good at his job, and wants to make things right in the world. The twists and turns of the adults' forays into counter espionage, as well as Mrs. Jones' backstory, add another interesting layer to this. Nightshade is a new organization for Alex to take down, and it seems like there will be another book to deal with them. As always, the details about jumping out of planes, evading security, and being on the run are well drawn and intriguing. It won't be long before MI6 finds that many of its recruits will cite Stormbreaker (2000) as their impetus for joining the secret service!
Weaknesses: Freddy is very vicious, so this starts out with more brutal killings than most books. This does, however, serve to highlight Alex's compassion and dislike for killing.
What I really think: There are four series in my library that I make sure are being held together by whatever means necessary: Horowitz's Stormbreaker, Ally Carter's Gallagher Girls, John Flanagan's Ranger's Apprentice, and Shan's Cirque du Freak. I don't know that I could work in a library that didn't have the complete Stormbreaker series. Just couldn't.

Also, I read Kerry Greenwood's Cocaine Blues (Phryne Fisher, #1) right after this. I very much enjoyed the television series, but the book really paled in comparison. I might have just been spoiled by Horowitz's exquisite writing, which was good twenty years ago but is now exceptional.

Ms. Yingling


  1. I feel old if Snoopy is historical. Ha! Ha! I remember seeing the Alex Rider series on the shelf but never picked it up. Maybe now is a good time to try it out. Thanks.

  2. I'm not familiar with this series, but I've always enjoyed various series or books with teen spies. This one sounds like one I should try out.