“A very wise man once defined charity in the following way. He said it was poor people in rich countries giving money to rich people in poor countries.”
It turns out that I didn’t remember anything that happened in this book, but on the reread I absolutely loved it? A brilliant entry into the series and I ummed and ahhed on where to place it in the ranking of books.
Rating: 4.5 stars!
Alex Rider series so far:
At the end of Snakehead, MI-6 are finally starting to respect Alex, and Blunt offered him a job instead of manipulating him into taking it without consent. Sabina is staying in London for the summer, and things seem to be looking up for Alex, for once. As much as they can be looking up after finding out that his godfather is a treacherous snake and murdered his parents and betrayed Alex to Scorpia too, and after nearly dying several times over as he was illegally smuggled from Bangkok to Australia via ship, flight and impromptu kayaking trip down a waterfall. Scorpia have been forcibly kicked off of Alex’s tail, and everything’s fine now. Right?
Alex Rider is having a pretty normal day. Normal by his perspective, that is, not by most people’s. For Alex, normal means that there’s a con artist who’s realised that there’s big money in charity. If a disaster strikes, the money flows. So he’s going to make the biggest disaster he can create, thanks to genetically modified corn that contains a virus that is so potent that it could take out a whole country in a slight windstorm. But Alex Rider isn’t so easily scared, and he’ll face anything he needs to to bring down his worst enemy yet.
What did I think?
I didn’t actually remember a great deal of this book once I started rereading it, but I really enjoyed it. There’s definitely a huge jump in depth and quality in the later books compared to the earlier ones. Not that the earlier books are bad by any measure, but it definitely feels like a series that matures with its readers, particularly when I was reading them years ago as they came out! This book is darker than the earlier stories, and I know for a fact that Scorpia Rising gets darker again, but it feels like they slowly build to a stronger and darker finish. Even Alex is getting darker. The bad guys dying in his path are getting much less accidental.
Bulman was a stand-out character in this book and the role he played was particularly cool. Arseholish, but cool. I went from ‘I hope this character dies in a ditch’ to ‘Jesus Bulman you deserve better’ in 0.2 seconds. Bulman acted as a plot device, as most side characters do, but he also highlighted the… flexible morality within the series. I just talked about the series getting darker, and while in earlier entries the book gently glossed over MI-6 being manipulative as hell, Bulman goes hard. The chapter with Bulman lays out everything that happened over the course of the last few books, and it sounds real bad when you hear everything MI-6 and other intelligence agencies put Alex through. And the way that MI-6 handle Bulman? Holy wow, that was the scariest thing I’ve read all year. I hope I never catch the attention of a pissed off government agent like those in this book, because they have no chill. Equally though, we see a better side of MI-6, with Alan Blunt finally believing Alex and trusting his word, as well as acting to defend and protect him. Some respect! Emotional support! Finally!
I do wish that the bad guys would show a little more common sense. Every single time, they tell Alex their whole plan and then leave him a couple of days before they kill him so that he can escape. This was especially grating. McCain knows Alex is a super spy, and knows that he has repeatedly gotten out of stickier scrapes than this one. Stop giving him a chance to escape, and all the information he needs to save the world. A kick-back reference to earlier bad guys like the Gentleman was pretty cool, I like that little note for loyal fans of the series. It’s nice to see references that jump out without impacting the plot too much, and I do think that the Alex Rider books are all very good at reminding readers of the events of previous books without excessive info-dumping. Other than that huge flaw, McCain was an interesting bad guy. The idea of a shady charity and the way he goes about his plan is a nice change from the other villains we’ve had and I really enjoyed reading about something a bit different.
Once again, we have a disfigured bad guy. Great. We love this trope in every single book in a series. It was particularly galling because there’s a later passage where the book specifically addresses ableism and how people treat strangers that they perceive to be disabled and yet we’re still perpetrating these ableist ideas that disfigurement=evil? Stop. You’re undermining your own goddamn point and it’s beyond tired.
Alex Rider line of the book:
“You might as well shoot me here. I’m not playing your games.”
My ranking so far:
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