A book review for parents
This action-adventure book is the first in the "Alex Rider" series by Anthony Horowitz and is published by Speak Books, an imprint of the Penguin Group.
Stormbreaker is written for kids ages 12 and up. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.
Ian Rider was a cautious man. So when he dies in a crash without wearing his seatbelt, his nephew, Alex, suspects foul play. Alex wonders why someone would murder a banker — then he discovers clues that convince him his long-time guardian was not the man he claimed to be.
When Ian's "bank" calls Alex to discuss the will, the 14-year-old sneaks into his uncle's old office and finds suspicious files. Security guards shoot him with a tranquilizer gun, and Alex wakes up in a posh house where he's escorted to dinner with Ian's former employers, Mr. Blunt and Mrs. Jones. They tell him they're executives for the British intelligence agency known as MI6 and that Ian was one of their agents. Ian was investigating a billionaire inventor named Herod Sayle, and they want Alex to help them finish the mission. They threaten to send Alex to an institution if he refuses. Alex reluctantly agrees to work for them and receives a two-week crash course in MI6 operations training.
Alex poses as a boy genius, and Sayle invites him to test out his new, state-of-the-art computer system, Stormbreaker. Sayle's seemingly altruistic plan — to give Stormbreakers to every secondary school in England — has aroused the suspicion of the MI6. Just before the crash, Ian had sent an urgent message to Blunt insisting that the Stormbreakers not leave the plant.
Alex visits Sayle's estate, meeting the small but menacing inventor, his butler, Mr. Grin (whose face was deformed in a circus knife throwing accident), and Sayle's enormous jellyfish. When he's not testing the Stormbreaker, Alex sneaks around the factory buildings and follows clues left by Ian. A makeshift map leads him to a series of underground tunnels, and he discovers a lab where Sayle's workers are inserting biological weapons into each computer.
When Sayle realizes Alex has discovered his secret, he explains that the British prime minister bullied him when they were kids. He plans to avenge himself when the nation's unsuspecting leader accepts the Stormbreakers (already distributed throughout the country). The prime minister will press a button, thinking he's activating the computer network, when he'll actually be releasing Sayle's genetically altered smallpox virus, which will kill thousands of children.
Sayle orders his people to get rid of Alex, while Sayle heads to the ceremony. Alex is released into the enormous tank with the killer jellyfish and uses special MI6 tools to break the tank open in the nick of time. He hides out on a plane and gets to the ceremony just before the virus is released. Sayle tries to escape by using Alex as a human shield, but Yassen Gregorovich (Sayle's Russian business contact who killed Ian) saves Alex's life before escaping by helicopter.
A vicar who attends Ian's funeral seems disappointed that Alex refuses to cry.
Ian was a solitary man with no girlfriends. He enjoyed fine wine, classical music and books. Never one to give lectures, he let Alex make up his own mind about things. He lied to Alex for years about his career and the reasons for his extensive travel, and he trained his nephew in climbing, martial arts and other skills so Alex could take over his work. Mrs. Jones and Blunt doubt that Alex can complete his mission, but they still send him to gather information with little concern for his survival. Sayle uses his wealth, power and influence to exact revenge, despite the fact that it means killing thousands. Alex operates as a grown-up in a world full of violent adults.
Other Belief Systems
When Alex is able to get back to his room with no one catching him, he feels as though his luck is holding out.
Alex curses about his circumstances, though no swear words are seen in the text at that point. H--- appears several times, sometimes as a curse word but more often to describe something horrific. The word d--n is also found a time or two. When Sayle says his jellyfish reminds him of himself, Alex asks if it's because jellyfish have no brain, no guts and no anus. The book contains several disturbing descriptions, including that of the tongueless Mr. Grin whose mouth was deformed in a knife-throwing accident, a man crashing his motorcycle into an electric fence and an account of Sayle's jellyfish wrapping itself around and killing Sayle's assistant. Alex is involved with shootings, fiery car crashes and plane explosions. Russian assassin Gregorovich kills people without thought. He urges Alex to get out of the spy business and go back to school, because killing is for adults.
"The Alex Rider Series," New York Times Bestseller, 2010
If your children have read this book or someone has read it to them, consider these discussion topics:
- What role does revenge play in Stormbreaker?
Which characters feel the need to exact revenge, and why?
What does the Bible say about seeking revenge?
- How does Alex feel about his mission?
Does he get the sense that he is respected for the dangerous work he's doing?
What does he believe is the big difference between him and spies like James Bond?
Why is it more difficult to complete a task you are forced to do than a job about which you feel passionate?
- How does Alex feel when he learns Ian has told so many lies?
How would you feel if you found out someone you trusted had kept his or her true identity from you?
- Which characters show some concern for the value of human life?
Which are more concerned about their work than about the lives that might be lost in the process?
Why does Alex refuse to kill people in cold blood, despite the fact that Sayle and Gregorovich are doing it?
Is it ever justifiable to take another life? Explain your answer.
What does the Bible say about the value of human life?
- Why does Alex protect and help Wolf, the man in his MI6 training, who tries to get Alex in trouble?
Have you ever heard the phrase "killing someone with kindness"?
What do you think that means?
How does Alex's behavior eventually make an impression on Wolf?
How might your decision to be kind to an enemy bring about positive results?
A movie based on this book, titled Alex Rider: Operation Stormbreaker, was released in 2006 in the UK.
Smoking: A few minor characters, including the sergeant and Alex's fellow trainees, smoke cigarettes.
Alcohol: Blunt, Mrs. Jones and Sayle drink red wine with dinner.
Nudity: In Sayle's house, Alex sees a semi-nude sculpture that looks like Sayle and a statue of a naked Greek goddess.
Lying: Alex realizes everything Ian told him about his (Ian's) life was a lie. Alex lies to his sergeant during training to protect one of his teammates and about his identity in his efforts to infiltrate Sayle's operation.
Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. A book's inclusion does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.