I don’t know if you are familiar with the Alex Rider books, or if the popularity of the series was a phenomenon limited to my age group. I remember the series being the star of our school book fairs, starting roughly around 2002 when I would have been in the 5th grade. As millions of children across the world remember the Harry Potter Series as being the stories of their childhood that made them readers, so I remember the Alex Rider Series. I had always been a reader, but looking back, these are the books that made me a passionate reader.
Set in London, the series follows a schoolboy of extraordinary ability who, following the death of his uncle, a spy, is recruited by MI6. They are written by Anthony Horowitz, who now has some James Bond credits under his belt. I know it all sounds very fantastical, but it is somehow believable. The action and adventure, which usually bores me, is splendid, and, for the most part, the plots are really sound. The character of Alex is enormously layered and compelling.
I can’t remember how I got started on them. I think one of the boys in my class may have told me I needed to try them. I started Stormbreaker in 6th grade and was blown away. I told my best friend, and she tried them and was similarly transported. Everyone who read them told their friends, and pretty soon we had a wave of Alex Rider fanaticism in our grade at school. Even people who weren’t readers were so absorbed in them that they didn’t want to put them down when our classes began. We—boys and girls alike—carried this fixation with the books on up to the 8th grade. They were so popular that our librarian had to begin keeping them behind her desk with waiting lists. If you’re a reader, you probably are familiar with the delight a new book being published in a series can bring. When Ark Angel came out in the 8th grade, there was a pretty deep waiting list. I, who loathe line-cutting, snuck into the library (perhaps taking a cue from the teen spy himself?) on the day we knew it was arriving at the school, and looked at our librarian with puppy dog eyes. She laughed and said, “It’s on my desk, Tara.”
Apparently the series is hugely admired in England. Obviously, it was really popular with my age group at my particular school. I’m not sure of its influence in America beyond that. My brother, who is just two grades ahead of me, thinks he missed the phenomenon entirely. My sister, who is six grades behind me, read and loved the books, and all of her grade did, too, but sometimes I wonder if that was because a lot of people in my class happened to have little siblings in her class. When a class I recently spoke to asked me what I liked to read, I told them about the series, and they weren’t familiar with it (although, I think their teacher, who is wonderful and was also my teacher, planned to introduce it to them!).
Anyway, obviously, I know the series has sold millions of copies in the U.S., so obviously a lot of kids were reading it. But I don’t hear it spoken of very often these days. There was a movie some years back based on Stormbreaker, which I think critics are pretty hard on, but I didn’t mind it when I watched it as a child. I’ve been away from the series for a long time and actually didn’t even know Horowitz has added subsequent novels (the last one I read was Snakehead, and I thought the series was complete).
But imagine my delight when my sister called me and said, “Did you know there is an Alex Rider series on Prime?!” So obviously, I watched it. There are currently two seasons available. The first series skips over the plotline from Stormbreaker and goes straight into Point Blanc, which happens to have been my least favorite of the books. (It involves a cloning storyline, which was a rare departure from conceivable reality for the series.)
Anthony Horowitz was an executive producer, so I felt pretty good about it going in. The casting, I think, was incredible. It was like actually watching these characters from my childhood come to life. Alex wasn’t exactly as I had pictured him looking, but Otto Farrant, himself a childhood fan of the novels, inhabits the role beautifully and really gets the character. Mrs. Jones, Alan Blunt, and Jack were other phenomenal casting jobs. The spirit of the novels that makes them delightful and readable is there, and overall, I am very impressed.
A few things that were interesting to contemplate as I watched… The streaming adaptation was not made just for kids. It is almost told from an adult perspective, and they apparently did that both for the sake of casting the audience net as wide as possible and for allowing the series to sort of grow up with people like me, who grew up reading the books. It was interesting, and not totally ineffective. It may have even been the best thing to do. I am a bit of a purist, however, when it comes to really good books being adapted for the screen, so… I wouldn’t have minded a less omniscient viewpoint.
In addition, when I was Alex’s age and reading the books, I knew Horowitz was careful to include the moral discussion about employing a teenager as a spy, but those discussions just sort of washed over me. He was a teenager, sure, but he was capable, and he was doing it for his country. Now, of course, watching the series, my eyes are kind of wide at the audacity and moral repugnance of the fictional MI6 characters using a teenage child in this way. I just thought that perspective shift, while not at all out of the ordinary as we grow up, was interesting to note.
I remember the books made it plain that Alan Blunt (the boss) made the decision in a cold-blooded, clear-eyed way because it was the best way he could do his job, with the ultimate goals being good ones, but still, he was willing to use Alex with varying degrees of humanity over the course of the series. I wish the series had dug into that moral dilemma a bit more, and into the characters of Blunt and Mrs. Jones, as the books did. It just seems odd that the writers, who were giving a more adult brush to the series, missed that opportunity. I think this may be something that they intend to rectify in future seasons, however.
Season 2 is based on Eagle Strike, which was a good book. Season 3 has been announced, so it looks like the show will go on!
All in all, I’m delighted to take this journey back to a lovely time during my childhood, and to the lovely books that sparked my reading passion. Go watch the series on Prime!