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Friday, 14 August 2015

Book Zone Box Set #1 - The Alex Rider Series

I love DVD box sets! I have piles and piles of them here at Book Zone HQ, and sometimes, when I'm in the mood I will watch a whole season of a TV show back-to-back over a week, often whilst I'm getting on with school work of an evening. Over the past year I've been rewatching, amongst others, the complete X-Files, Stargate SG-1 and CSI: Miami. As I was reaching for Season 7 of the X-Files this morning I realised that the box set concept would make a nice new occasional feature for this blog: Book Zone Box sets.

As a child and a young teen I was much the same with books. If I found a series I liked I would read as many of them as I could get my hands on: Enid Blyton's various mystery series; The Three Investigators; the Hardy Boys; Agatha Christie's Poirot; the Conan books published by Sphere back in the 70s/80s; the Destroyer books by Sapir and Murphy... the list goes on and on. And I haven't changed - it's great to discover an author I've never read before who has a significant back catalogue of great books.

Many kids, and boys in particular, share this love for series books, so when people ask me to recommend books for their children I will often include a handful of first-in-series books, as if their child likes one of them it could be the catalyst to them becoming a keen reader. It worked on my godson (and his brother) when  gave him the first Percy Jackson book, and it has worked many times since. In this new feature I will put the spotlight on a series of books that I have read an enjoyed, and would highly recommend to any parent asking about suitable books for their child. For clarification, in my mind a series constitutes four or more books, i.e. trilogies do not count.

And what better place to start than with one of the very best series of books for 10+ aged reader from the last twenty years?




I love the Alex Rider books, almost as much as I love the Harry Potter books, both for their brilliant stories and the impact they have had on getting children, and boys in particular, reading for enjoyment. So well known are they, that it is very easy to fall into the trap of assuming that all book-loving children have at the very least read Stormbreaker, or that parents trying to encourage their children to pick up a book have tried the first in this series, but that is not the case. As such, Stormbreaker is top of every list I give to parents who approach me for book recommendations.

And now is the perfect time to start reading this marvellous series. 2015 marks the fifteenth anniversary of the first publication of Stormbreaker and earlier this year Walker Books published brand new editions, with top-smart new cover designs, produced by the Walker design team and creative studio Two Dots (see their stunning artwork at the end of this post). And there's more... the Walker editorial team have also gone through every one of the books in the series and updated them slightly. The changes do not affect the story in any way, other than to make the pop-culture references more relevant for today's young readers. This, in Stormbreaker, the modified gadget that Smithers provides Alex becomes a Nintendo DS when previously it was a Gameboy. In Scorpia, Alex is now wearing a Superdry t-shirt, and in Ark Angel the TV on the table in Alex's hospital room becomes an "Ultra Slim HD TV mounted on the wall". Small changes that some may feel are unnecessary, but I am sure young readers will appreciate them, without even knowing they have been made.



I realised earlier this year that even though I had read Stormbreaker a number of times, I had only read the other books in the series once each. Thanks to the generosity of the fabulous Paul Black at Walker I came into possession of a set of the newly rejacketed Alex Rider books, and decided that now was the time for a re-read. And just like a watching a TV series box set, these books are even better when read back-to-back. I remember when I first read each book that I found it very difficuly to put down, and on a second reading nothing has changed and it being the school summer holidays meant I had the luxury of being able to read for several hours at a time without interruption.

With so much time between the publication of each book, it is very easy to lose touch with the fact that the nine Alex Rider adventures take part over a period of  just twelve months. Yes, incredibly there is only one year between Alex being drafted into an MI6 investigation against his will, to his final battle against Scorpia, via a crazy number of near-death experiences. Reading them in this way we see how his character develops from a fun-loving, average 14-year old schoolboy, albeit one who is grieving the loss of his only close relative, to a battle weary 15-year old who has seen and done things that no young person ever should. What also becomes clearly evident is how different each of the books is - Anthony Horowitz managed to create a nine book series where each new outing for the teen secret agent seems fresh and without repetition.

Although only one of these (Scorpia) ends on a cliffhanger, and technically each book could be read as a standalone, or out of series order, as each story contains a new, discrete mission for Alex, to be fully enjoyed these books should be read in order. It isn't just Alex's character that is developed over the series, but also that of Jack Starbright, Alan Blunt, Mrs Jones and, of course, Smithers (and he may only make a cameo appearance in each book, but it is almost worth getting to know him by reading the whole set just for that one special moment in Scorpia Rising, a twist that I am willing to bet that no one could possibly have seen coming).

Seriously, for getting 10+ kids into reading, and boys in particular, they don't come much better than Anthony Horowitz's Alex Rider series. And the icing on the cake? When you've finished the nine books you can read the mighty fine Russian Roulette, the Yassen Gregorovich origin story.


Cover Illustration by Two Dots © 2015 Walker Books Ltd
Cover Illustration by Two Dots © 2015 Walker Books Ltd
Cover Illustration by Two Dots © 2015 Walker Books Ltd
Cover Illustration by Two Dots © 2015 Walker Books Ltd
Cover Illustration by Two Dots © 2015 Walker Books Ltd
Cover Illustration by Two Dots © 2015 Walker Books Ltd
Cover Illustration by Two Dots © 2015 Walker Books Ltd
Cover Illustration by Two Dots © 2015 Walker Books Ltd
Cover Illustration by Two Dots © 2015 Walker Books Ltd
Cover Illustration by Two Dots © 2015 Walker Books Ltd







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