Nightshade, by Anthony Horowitz (Alex Rider review #13)

Our lives do not belong to us.
You speak and we rejoice.
You never will do wrong to us.
We live to hear your voice.

Nightshade was out on the 7th of April, and true to form I read it immediately! My intention was to post this on April 9th, to round off my Alex Rider re-read but uh, the world exploded and I lost motivation. Anyway, I’m back now, and ready to talk about the latest entry in the Alex Rider series and all round addictive book: NIGHTSHADE.

Rating: 5 stars!

Alex Rider series so far:

We first heard of Nightshade at the end of Never Say Die. Alex has just saved 52 children from the Grimaldi twins clutches, and the last remaining Scorpia members are dead. He’s been reunited with Jack after seeing her ‘die’ and chasing clues across the world to find her, and he’s back in London. They’re five million pounds richer, and Jack is going to stay with him. Best of all, Mrs. Jones has promised him that she’s going to leave him be. She told him she wants him to finish school, and then join MI-6 of his own free will. She said that there are no missions for him yet, and if one appears then it’s Alex’s choice. Mrs. Jones lied.

The plot:

Alex is back at school and life is normal again! Well. For a little while, before MI-6 call him back in. There’s a new terrorist organisation on the rise, and most haunting of all, they seem to be using children to commit their crimes. So, it can only be a child that can be sent in to see them. Things are complicated by the fact that Mrs. Jones’s new boss hates Alex, and the whole idea of a child spy, so if Alex wants to get to the bottom of the Nightshade mystery, he’s going to have to go it alone – and there’s something personal about the stakes this time.

What did I think?

Nightshade followed the same trend as the other later Alex Rider books. It’s longer, and darker, and a little slower. I don’t mind that, as I’m really getting to enjoy the depth that they’re finding. The early books in the series are a lot of fun and hijinks, but as Alex grows up it seems right that the books grow up too. And Nightshade, to me, seems the darkest so far. Yes, Scorpia Rising and Never Say Die had the traumatising aspect of Jack’s ‘death’, but honestly there’s something about Nightshade that viscerally horrified me. Without delving too far into spoilers, Nightshade is a terrorist cell consisting of a few Teachers and a group of highly trained children. They’re weaponised in the same way that MI-6 weaponised Alex, but there’s something even more chilling about their complete and unwavering obedience. There’s also something chilling about where the children have come from, but that’s a reveal best discovered during the book.

I loved the infiltration aspect of this book, and the way Alex had to pretend to be Julius Grief in his high security Gibraltar prison in order to befriend the boy they hoped would lead them to Nightshade – a boy who killed MI-6 agents and slaughtered police officers without hesitation. Alex has to earn his trust, and somehow infiltrate a terrorist cell that can seemingly order its members around without words. The stakes felt particularly high, with Alex stranded without any gadgets, support or communication devices, and when he discovers an imminent attack on London, he’s completely isolated – and being hunted by everyone in the UK. The fact that everyone fully believes that he’s Julius Grief, the fact that not even MI-6 can save him? It feels like Alex might finally be in more danger than he can handle.

I loved the concept of the Nightshade group, and I swear they’re the most interesting of any of the ‘bad guys’ Alex has faced so far – though it would be far too spoilery to get into it in too much detail there’s fascinating aspects of mind-control/indoctrination in the children that work in the cell to control every aspect of their lives and make them willing and eager to live and die for their cause. This makes them infinitely more interesting than the usual paid thug characters, if infinitely more tragic too.


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