Details: Ark Angel,
by Anthony Horowitz,
Walker Books, London, 2005
This review is really for adults looking for something suitable for kids to read.
Alex Rider is 14 years old and he has been working for a British spy agency, Military Intelligence: Special Operations (MISO) since the death of his uncle, who was also a spy. Alex Rider is a spy in the fashion of James Bond, involving lots of gadgets and life threatening situations. In Ark Angel, he has to escape death in some way in nearly every chapter, even when he is just racing his friend's father in a go-cart race, or going to a football match.
In this story, the ante is “upped” when his evil opponent decideds to drop a space city, the first hotel in space, on New York City. Alex has to save the day. He is the only one who can, because, this time, he is the right size to fit into the space capsule in order to go up and disarm the bomb.
It's a great read. It's the kind of thing that boys who are younger than 14 can enjoy. Horowitz seems to enjoy doing the appropriate research and, which is even better in a writer, doesn't say more than he has to in order to convey the story. Many writers, having done their research, want to show it all off. Horowitz just puts in enough information to capture the scene or evoke the tension in the situation. For kids, this is really a roller-coaster ride of book. Alex knows how to do all sorts of things from tight-rope walking to suba diving, and he does them all in the course of his adventures.
While the roller-coaster ride is great, one of the best bits, for me, was the description of the effects of low gravity on the human body going into space eg, the nausea caused because the stomach is now in free fall!
For adults, especially parents, the truly incredible bit is the idea of a fourteen year old boy who not only notices what is going on around him – while many of us know teenagers who can barely find their socks – but Alex can also articulate to the adults around him what it is they need to know! Those of us used to trying to interpret non-commital grunts can only fantasize about such loquacity. On the other hand, many of Alex's skills are only exaggerated versions of what many kids do or would do, such as the go-karting, scuba diving, kite-surfing, so that its possible to believe in the adventure and, for the young reader, see themselves as Alex. Kids who have so much as been to the beach could imagine themselves taking those next steps into being an action hero.
Girls are in Alex's life, but not sex as such. This is important if you are looking for a book for a young but capable reader who wants to read action but not, shall we say, romance. We can bet that, since Alex Rider is fourteen, it will be kids who are only eleven or twelve years old, or even younger, who will want to join his adventures.
It's sad when a precocious reader of seven or eight gets stuck with reading teen romances just because they can read at the level of a fifteen year old, books that raise questions such a young reader has no identification with at all. Believe it or not, folks, there is a place in the world for those kind of sexless adventure stories many of us knew as kids. Alex takes a kind of middle road, having an awareness that doesn't get in the way of the adventure.
Another consideration is that Alex Rider stories do not involve any philosophy, no meditations on right and wrong. It's all black and white. The baddies are bad, and when they die it's because they deserve it. People who like to supervise their child's reading might like to think that one over, although their response, in terms of discussing such issues, would depend on how seriously they think their child takes such statements in a story that's, after all, a fantasy.