Nightshade (Alex Rider #13)

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Anthony Horowitz, Nightshade (Alex Rider #13), Walker Books Ltd., April 2020, RRP $16.99 (pbk), ISBN 9781406395877

It’s been a while since I’ve read an Alex Rider book – my son was obsessed with them – and I’m not even sure how old Alex is now, but suffice to say he’s is still in high school and has a resume that would make James Bond envious.  

Alex Rider, teenage spy and all-round action hero, is trying to have a normal life with (sort of) normal friends and normal homework, but by now he knows what it means when a mysterious car lurks outside his school and men in suits start asking for him. And it’s hard to say no to MI6 when the fate of London hangs in the balance. 

This time, Alex is going undercover in a remote MI6 prison for the worst of the worst, trying to get close to the silent and deadly teenage agent of a new and mysterious threat to learn what he knows about Nightshade before the worst happens. And every misstep could get him killed with no one to save him. Can Alex gain Freddy’s trust, survive the inmates of the Gibraltar prison, infiltrate an organisation that’s brainwashed dozens of kids into lethal agents, and save the day? 

The threat is bigger, badder and more sinister than anything Alex has faced before, and likewise the action seems to be bloodier and more violent than the early series books that I read. There’s a fairly serious body-count going on just in the first few chapters.  But if you like your action thrillers packed with adrenaline and intrigue, with just enough quippy humour and inventive escapes to lighten the mood a little, then Nightshade will fit the bill. There isn’t a lot of deep thought to slow down the pace. 

The target audience has always been 12-15 year old readers, particularly boys, but my impression is that the level of action and response has shifted slightly towards the older end of that readership as the threats escalate. For readers who have been with Alex Rider since the beginning, I imagine you will be well-served by his thirteenth adventure. For anyone coming into the series for the first time, there is enough context given that readers could drop into the series at this book without too much difficulty. I get the impression that this is the beginning of a new arc of bad guys, and the conclusion, of course, leaves plenty of room for things to spin off into new and action-packed adventures. 

Step aside, Bond, Alex Rider is taking over. 

Reviewed by Emily Clarke 

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