A spy story for kids, #107 Stormbreaker is explicitly based on, and has numerous hat-tips to, Flemming’s James Bond. After his uncle’s death, 14-year-old Alex Rider gets dragged into the shady world of international espionage.
There are a lot of similarities between The Princess Diaries and Stormbreaker. Published in 2000, both books focus on a popular, well-established and strongly gendered wish-fulfillment situation: girls want to be pretty princesses and boys want to be daring spies. It’s a false dichotomy which shows up again and again – I remember it from the Happy Meal toys of my childhood and saw it in the toy aisle just last week.
Both characters are dragged into their adventure unwillingly, thanks to information which their parent/guardian has hidden from them. While Mia’s life remains within the realm of the ordinary (if going to an exclusive school, having a body guard and etiquette lessons can be considered ordinary) Alex’s rapidly enters a dangerous adult world where being under-age might not be enough to keep you from being killed.
Alex’s adventure involves mainly physical rather than moral courage: he has to undergo frightening and physically grueling challenges but is pretty clear about who the bad (or at least worst) guys are. Like in the Bond films, this junior spy never has to make any tough decisions about who to save or choose between two evils. The peril is larger than life and fairly sanitized – we’re dealing with Dasterdly Plots To End The World, not child labour or famine.
Following firmly in the footsteps of The Thirty-Nine Steps, Stormbreaker is implausible, macho and features a very lucky, surprisingly well equipped spy. While I’m not inclined to consider the Bond school of amateur demolitions heroic, it would be a terrifying situation for a normal 14-year-old and Alex acquits himself with aplomb.