'The best books, reviewed with insight and charm, but without compromise.'
- author Jackie French

Sunday 27 July 2014

Review: Russian Roulette (Alex Rider)

“Living as a boy of fourteen in a Russian village, it had never been my intention to become a contract killer.”

Meet Yassen Gregorovich. Once a boy named Yasha who lived in Estrov, a poor country village. Then an incident started a chain of events that changed his life dramatically.

It all begins at the factory where his parents both work. When there is an accident and his father refuses to obey instructions, Yasha suddenly discovers the truth about what they do and must run for his life. His survival depends on escape from the soldiers who descend on the village, so he travels to Moscow by way of Kirsk. There is no-one and nothing left for him in Estrov, but the help he thought was waiting only brings more danger.

Yasha melts into relative anonymity on the poverty-stricken, crime-filled streets of the metropolis. Until one day he breaks into the flat of a powerful man, and his life takes yet another turn. Yassen is the name given to him by that man, who mishears his real name but doesn’t care, and who decides to keep him as a slave. The man needs a food taster because he has enemies who want to kill him, and Yassen is given that task, along with other even more menial jobs.

Yassen escapes three years later, but it’s not the escape he imagined. It’s more of a rescue, and one that comes with a heavy price - Yassen is groomed to become an assassin working for a secret organisation. As he is put through grueling physical training and learns to fit into any situation while being forgotten at the same time, Yassen ponders what it is that makes someone bad, what makes them a killer. He wonders whether he is one of them, and what his life might have been like if he had not had to leave Estrov in the way he did. What difference do his choices make?

Award-winning author Anthony Horowitz again demonstrates his storytelling skills, and ability to write captivating action sequences like those which are such a part of his bestselling Alex Rider series, about a teenager recruited by MI-6. Russian Roulette is a prequel to that series which began with Stormbreaker, and was told from Alex’s perspective. Here we learn in-depth about Yassen Gregorovich and how he came to be involved in Alex Rider’s life. The story is fast-paced, filled with detailed insight and imagination, surprising twists and parallels. The secrets of Yassen’s past will show he and Alex Rider have more than a little in common.

Russian Roulette is in many ways more serious in its subject matter than the Alex Rider series, and rather chilling in its exploration of this character and his motivations, but the story is thought-provoking and entertaining. It could be read without knowing the Alex Rider books, but will be particularly enjoyed by those who have completed that series.

Even if you don’t read Russian Roulette, I recommend watching Anthony Horowtiz Live, an hour-long Q&A with about reading and writing. It’s a fantastic look behind the scenes of being a writer, and has lots of writing tips. You can also watch the Russian Roulette book trailer on the Alex Rider Insider YouTube channel, and find out which are the author’s top five Alex Rider spy gadgets, or top five villains from the series.

Title: Russian Roulette (Alex Rider)
Author: Anthony Horowitz
Publisher: Walker Books, $18.95 RRP
Publication Date: July 2014
Format: Paperback
ISBN: 9781406352603
For ages: 12+
Type: Young Adult