Secret Weapon, by Anthony Horowitz (Alex Rider reread #12)

Nightshade is out today! I’m not usually a huge fan of short story collections, but I’m giving them a try in 2020 after reading a couple of incredible ones. The stories were fun (and I’ve broken them down below) but they did contradict the main stories a little which was my biggest criticism. I think I would have liked most of these stories a lot more if I wasn’t constantly aware of the fact that they were jilting canon with every line. The timeline for Alex Rider is so tight, with only weeks between some of the books, how am I supposed to believe Alex got sent to Afghanistan in those weeks and it wasn’t mentioned in the original story? The timelines are just screwy.

Rating: 3.5 stars!

The plot:

In this collection of seven short stories, Alex’s life is no less fraught with danger and drama than in his main adventures. There’s a London street chase, a school trip with a deadly twist, and a day in the life of Alex Rider is like no day in the life anyone has ever seen before. Familiar and new characters appear in this mix of old and new stories.

What did I think?

Alex in Afghanistan

It was a little weird to have a mission tucked in between Point Blanc and Skeleton Key that obviously hadn’t been mentioned in any of the original books, but I’m suspending my disbelief because I know that these were written afterwards and that the gap after PB when Brooklands was closed is the easiest place to fit another story in. 

Altogether this was a pretty entertaining short story. It was compact but with all the hallmarks of an excellent Alex Rider novel, just cut a lot more tightly. The action sequences were still engaging, and after being elbow deep in Scorpia Rising and Never Say Die, it was nice to have a flashback to a happier and lighter-hearted Alex. This short story was well-balanced too, which is hard to do with a low word count, it wasn’t focused on just character or just action but had a nice blend of both. I liked the flash of depth this gave to the series, with more visceral proof of the way MI-6 has been using Alex from the start. In the first few books we got hints but no actual proof that MI-6 were more nefarious than they seemed, but here we’re shown that they never pull their punches. As a final note, I think I will literally have nightmares about the snake scene so thanks very much for that gory imagery.

The Man with Eleven Fingers

This was set after Stormbreaker, and I honestly found this whole thing hilarious. Alex was at his best, even with his toothache, and it was funny the whole way through. Like the previous story, it was a lighter kind of Alex story. There was a moment when Alex recognised someone, and for a full paragraph I thought it was a Yassen story. Alas, no Yassen here. The plot was interesting and mostly harmless (although reading it in the midst of COVID-19 chaos made it hit differently) and Meadows was genuinely hilarious. Give me more wacky Alex Rider one-shots, honestly.

High Tension

This was a weird one. Good, but weird. Alex is on holiday, though that’s obviously never going to work out, and there’s actually no bad guy for once. Instead, this was a really good show of Alex’s creativity and character. He’s brilliant, and I have to respect it. I don’t have the brain cells to react to things like he does, so I’m constantly impressed. All the Alex Rider plots are usually so complex and dangerous that I’m used to Alex being hit by malicious and nefarious plots. I’m surprised he didn’t assume there was something wrong beyond the norm, because I was totally waiting for Scorpia to parachute out of the sky with machine guns or something.

Secret Weapon

Having Skoda back was a treat, because I wasn’t expecting it at first. I liked the idea of a cameo from a side-character from an earlier story, but this seemed a little too outlandish. The security seemed a little… lax, for Skoda to be able to kidnap a kid and steal a sword and generally cause chaos without any full-scale security response. Having MI-6 shadow Alex makes sense logically, though it doesn’t fit with the fact that every time anyone’s targeted Alex before they’ve gotten him in on it and used it as an excuse to drag him into a mission. I think more than anything including Tom in this story just made it baffling. Yes, absolutely he’s Alex’s best friend and therefore the best leverage but we’ve already read a story where Tom finds out Alex is a spy and has no inkling whatsoever about it. I’m just saying that if I got kidnapped at sword point by a man out for revenge against my best friend, only to be rescued by an MI-6 operative shadowing said best friend – I would have a lot of questions.

Tea with Smithers

Whyyyy did Smithers get ruined in Scorpia Rising? He’s so wild, and I would have loved this story a lot if it wasn’t for the fact that I know it’s all fat-phobic as hell. I do really enjoy the gadgets. I feel like the gadgets in every Alex Rider book are always a highlight because they’re so wacky and creative, and I love that ‘Tea with Smithers’ explored that further and gave Smithers a chance to really show all of his ridiculous gadgets and inventions by taking away the sense of danger and urgency and setting it on Smither’s own turf. It’s just a shame that I reflexively cringe every time I read his name.

Christmas at Gunpoint

This one was… not my favourite. The principle of it was really cool, and I liked seeing a snippet of Alex’s life before MI-6 got involved. It was also the first real time we’ve seen Ian Rider in any Alex Rider stories, and he’s more bad-ass than even I anticipated. But I physically cannot get over the idea that this would all happen and Alex wouldn’t question his uncle over it for a second? In Stormbreaker he was so surprised to find out Ian was a spy, which I thought was fair until I found out that apparently their holiday got interrupted by chaotic spy nonsense. Also, if Alex had literally saved the day like this, it would have been in Ian’s reports and MI-6 wouldn’t have been shocked to meet Alex Rider, teenage spy-to-be. It just felt a little like it didn’t work in the wider chronology. Next time maybe just a cool Ian story would be fun.

Spy Trap

There were some very cool moments in this. The truth serum stuff was creepy as hell, and Alex working it out and fighting back subtly was really interesting. Usually we just see Alex going loud so to see him taking it a little more stealthily here was fun. This story wasn’t hugely memorable, honestly, but it was a nice little read and made for an interesting adventure. Considering it came out during a bit of an Alex Rider drought, I think I would have loved to get my hands on it. I’m a little less thirsty for new content given that I’ve been marathon reading Alex Rider stories for weeks, so I was more critical of it.


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