Alex Rider: Secret weapon by Anthony Horowitz

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Walker Books, 2019. ISBN 9781406387476.
An anthology of short stories about reluctant teenage spy Alex Rider. Much like Horowitz' other novels, it is fast-paced and an interesting read for lovers of the series.
The nature of the short stories, however, leaves little room for character growth, but the recurring major characters are at least well established, even without prior familiarity with the series. This leaves this particular novel easy to pick up for new readers of the Alex Rider series. Unfortunately, the same can't be said for the antagonists of each story, which seem to be one dimensional stereotypes. The plots aren't much to speak of, generally being one single action set piece, but for short stories, that's exactly what is expected. The anthology does leave a lot to be desired when it comes to examining themes. There is a lot of potential left on the table. For example, one story has Alex's 'normal' friend caught up in one of his escapades, but rather than examine the stress of living a double life, status quo is immediately re-established as Alex decides without thinking twice to keep lying. A common element throughout the stories is how Alex's uncle conditioned him from childhood to be a spy, and while this is resented it still goes unexamined for what amounts to parental abuse. There's also a really uncomfortable jingoistic undercurrent, with the longest story being about bombing a cell of Middle-Eastern terrorists, and even the shortest story finds time to engage in Churchill apologia. The settings of the stories are deliberately somewhat non-specific, either a fictional part of a given country, or very broadly 'London', and vaguely modern time.
This is not necessarily a bad thing, however, as it helps avoid the stories dating themselves. The first person perspective somewhat hurts the writing style of the anthology, as any descriptive language comes through the filter of a 14-year-old. Still, the light-hearted tone suits these one-shot action stories well.
Vincent Hermann