Skeleton Key: A darker take on the teen spy’s adventures

Skeleton Key by Anthony Horowitz science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsSkeleton Key by Anthony Horowitz science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsSkeleton Key by Anthony Horowitz

The ALEX RIDER books have always veered on the side of realism (as opposed to other teen-targeted spy stories such as Spy Kids and Kim Possible) but even I was surprised by just how dark the third book in Anthony Horowitz‘s series actually got.

Having been recruited and trained by MI6 in order to infiltrate locations and undergo missions in which teenagers go unnoticed, fourteen year old Alex is happy to be free of espionage and just hanging out with the lovely Sabina Pleasure (a Bond girl if ever there was one).

Naturally, his fun is over when he’s once again approached by the Special Divisions Unit — first to go undercover as a ballboy at Wimbledom to investigate a strange break-in, and then (which takes up the bulk of Skeleton Key) to pose as the teenage son of two operatives as they monitor the sinister Russian General Sarov, who is up to something on the Cuban island of Skeleton Key.

Skeleton Key by Anthony Horowitz science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsFrustrated by the mistrust of the two agents, Alex listens and watches carefully, gradually piecing together why exactly General Sarov is such a threat. When his fellow agents are taken out of commission, it falls to Alex to thwart Sarov’s plans, though to do so takes incredible courage and daring.

As I mentioned, it gets surprisingly dark this time around, with plenty of grisly deaths, a villain with an incredibly messed-up plan, and Alex falling into what is clearly a state of depression at the end of the story.

It’s to Horowitz’s credit that he plays the spy-adventures as something that has a detrimental effect on the mind and soul of a teenage boy, rather than to treat everything as a high-spirited lark. Alex doesn’t enjoy his job all that much (despite the glamourous locations and inventive gadgets) and there’s more than one conversation in Skeleton Key about the ethical implications of sending a teenager into such dangerous situations.

So I’m interested to see how Alex’s story will continue — and whether his state of mind will improve, despite the inevitability of more missions to come.

Published in 2004. Alex Rider is an orphan turned teen superspy who’s saving the world one mission at a time—from #1 New York Times bestselling author! Alex Rider has been through a lot for his fourteen years. He’s been shot at by international terrorists, chased down a mountainside on a makeshift snowboard, and has stood face-to-face with pure evil. Twice, young Alex has managed to save the world. And twice, he has almost been killed doing it. But now Alex faces something even more dangerous. The desperation of a man who has lost everything he cared for: his country and his only son. A man who just happens to have a nuclear weapon and a serious grudge against the free world. To see his beloved Russia once again be a dominant power, he will stop at nothing. Unless Alex can stop him first… Uniting forces with America’s own CIA for the first time, teen spy Alex Rider battles terror from the sun-baked beaches of Miami all the way to the barren ice fields of northernmost Russia.

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REBECCA FISHER, with us since January 2008, earned a Masters degree in literature at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand. Her thesis included a comparison of how C.S. Lewis and Philip Pullman each use the idea of mankind’s Fall from Grace to structure the worldviews presented in their fantasy series. Rebecca is a firm believer that fantasy books written for children can be just as meaningful, well-written and enjoyable as those for adults, and in some cases, even more so. Rebecca lives in New Zealand. She is the winner of the 2015 Sir Julius Vogel Award for Best SFF Fan Writer.

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One comment

  1. Skeleton Key is a nice play on the word “key.”

    I read the first of Anthony Horowitz’s Sherlock Holmes pastiches and I didn’t care for it. I didn’t make the name connection to Alex Rider.

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