“We all make choices, Cossack. Who we are in this world, what we do in it. Generous or selfish. Happy or sad. Good or evil. It’s all down to choice.”
This book has almost legendary status on my bookshelves, honestly. I’ve owned it since it was released in 2013, and never read it. That’s nearly seven years of it being sat on my bookshelves untouched because I was scared of finding out what Anthony Horowitz had in store for Yassen Gregorovitch. When I actually got around to reading it, I read it in one sitting because I loved it.
Rating: 5 stars!
Ian Rider’s murder, at the hands of Yassen Gregorovich, threw Alex into espionage and trouble whether he liked it or not (he didn’t). Alex vowed revenge against Yassen, but years ago it was Alex’s own father who trained and shaped Yassen into the man he became. Alex Rider and Yassen Gregorovich are two sides of a coin, one choosing to kill and one choosing to save others, and those paths turned them into enemies. Russian Roulette isn’t Alex’s story, it’s Yassen’s and years after reading about his end, it’s time to see where his path began.
What did I think?
I wasn’t expecting the way this story was laid out. It was formatted as Yassen’s diary entries, looking back at his childhood. I’m not usually a huge fan of first person fiction, but I didn’t mind it as much as I thought I would. For some reason I didn’t think that Russian Roulette would be set when Yassen was younger, but it makes perfect sense. The books are about a teenage spy, so it makes sense for Russian Roulette to be about a teenage soon-to-be-assassin. In hindsight a book about an adult assassin would have been a massive tonal shift – basically, I’m a moron. We get to meet Yassen, or Yasha, at the beginning of his journey, just like we did with Alex. He’s a teenager living a quiet life until a huge disaster blows his life to pieces. The survivor’s guilt on this kid? Phew. To be honest, I think Yassen is pretty well adjusted, considering the trauma he goes through before he even hits eighteen years old.
We knew some of Yassen’s story, knew that he became Cossack and that he was trained by Hunter, Alex’s father. We also know what happens to both Yassen and John. We know that he trained on Malagosto, met Julia Rothman and we know that he was present in Cornwall when Alex fell into his first mission. Russian Roulette fleshes out some of that time in between. I get the impression that Yassen is Anthony Horowitz’s favourite character (I don’t blame him, he’s definitely my favourite) because Yassen is incredibly fleshed out and well-characterised. It can be really difficult to nail a morally grey character in a children’s book, but we definitely see that in Yassen Gregorovich. He does bad things for bad reasons, good things for good reasons, and sometimes he does bad things for good reasons too. He’s complicated and possibly even more traumatised than Alex, but he still has a streak of humanity in him.
The plot itself is a little convenient in places, but that’s not really what this book is here for. This book is effectively a Yassen Gregorovich character study, and it’s an excellent read for anyone who loves that character. Which, I imagine, is exactly what Anthony Horowitz wrote this book for. There are huge amounts of parallels between Yassen and Alex, even though they grew up in totally different circumstances and for die-hard Alex Rider fans, this is a must read.
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