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This book takes off shortly after the first Alex Rider story - Stormbreaker ends. Alex is bored and resents not being able to talk about his great adventure, but is certain his spy days are over for good. Still he can't resist a bit of excitement and ends up following a man who has been selling drugs to children at Alex's school. One thing leads to another and Alex is soon behind bars. Not to worry, MI6 are soon there to bail him out - but their assistance comes at a price. The reluctant hero is soon off on another adventure, once again against his will.
This time Alex is being sent to Point Blanc, and exclusive finishing school for troubled young boys from the worlds richest and most powerful families. MI6 has become suspicious when two powerful men with sons in the academy die under mysterious circumstances. The school is run by an absolutely insane looking mad scientist from South Africa; Dr. Grief, and his musclebound assistant; Mrs Stellenbosch. As Alex really does not want to go - he plays the resentful surly teenager perfectly. But right from the start - things are not right and Alex is drugged by the assistant. Things go from bad to worse at the school, where all of the boys but one, James Sprintz, behave as Stepford Children. But James is bruised and battered and soon completely transformed into another robotically well behaved child. Will Alex be transformed too? Or will he discover the secret of Point Blanc?
This book was purchased for my oldest son, who was nearly 7 at the time. He was delighted with the book and I saw very little of him for the rest of the afternoon and evening as he pured through this book, finishing it in two sittings separated only by dinner. Although he can and has read this on his own several times, he has also asked me to read it to him at story time. We both still enjoy sharing a book before bed, and I usually end up reading from one of graphic novels or comics at the moment , as those are his favourites.
I have limited my plot description to the first part of the story as I really hate reading spoilers myself, and will have to keep any further description vague to avoid spoiling the story. There is plenty of action and excitement though. It is a fast moving story. My son's favourite part is a chase scene involving snowmobiles , a snowboard, and machine guns. He also enjoyed the misbehaviour of the boys early on, and the rude comments they made about Mrs Stellenbosch.
The graphics are quite good. I would not call the pictures works of art, as I would some graphic novels, but they are enjoyable, if a bit comic book style. Alex in particular is well drawn, and the expressions perfect. The villains are very obvious, as they are drawn to look monstrous and evil, but this is typical with comic book type illustrations, and of course the name "Dr. Grief" is pure comic book villainy. My son really enjoyed the pictures, and they do help him to get into a story.
Although this is written for children or teenagers, I did enjoy this myself. In particular there is quite a twist at the end which had me racing for my son's room and book 3 to try to figure out. My son has all three published Alex Rider graphic novels and is eagerly awaiting the 4th. It was due for release in August, and he will often tell me how many months before the next book comes out. Judging by the level of anticipation he has for the next title, the number of times this has been read, and the amount of fun he has had,I am rating this book as high as possible with a full 5 stars. He may get lucky and get the book sooner - Amazon is now showing a release date in early June, but I haven't mentioned it in case there are delays or I need to wait on a voucher.
This is an excellent book for boys - just the type of story that would get many children fired up about reading. I do think a fair number of girls would enjoy it as well - I certainly would have as a child. I do think it is best suited for children and teenagers - perhaps ages 7- 14, but it isn't a bad book for adults. A new copy costs £6.02, but used copies are readily available at only £2.81 including postage costs. At this price, it has been a real bargain as it has been read over and over again, and certainly contributed to my sons growing love of books.
I would note that there is a scene in which Alex helps himself to a hotel mini bar, and some parents may disapprove of a potential role model drinking. There is also mention that Alex's friend James smokes. If this is an issue for you, you may prefer to avoid this book. For myself, I don't really mind these things in books. I feel children will come across them in real life, and I think when they crop up in stories it provides an easy way to discuss these topics, but I can understand where other parents might object. I do feel more relaxed about these subjects because of the fact that we always end up reading the books together too, so my son can easily voice any thoughts or concerns raised by the story.