Young Bond author Charlie Higson compared against Anthony Horowitz
Anglo-American cultural etiquette decrees that it is inappropriate to expose small children to senseless violence, but perfectly O.K. to make movies or write books where teenagers get shot, stabbed, hanged, impaled or cut to ribbons. The subliminal message is clear: toddlers are cute; teenagers are not; and those who are no longer cute deserve to be dismembered. Teenagers understand this, flocking to films like "Scream," "I Know What You Did Last Summer" and "The Ring," whose meaning is unmistakable: If a serial killer, murderous scarecrow, vengeful fisherman or demon from beyond hell has just checked into town, it's every adolescent for himself - reports the NY Times
This equation gets turned on its head in two separate book series about teenage spies. In Charlie Higson's highly entertaining Young Bond novels, set in the 30's, it is the adults who fall prey to the teenagers, repeatedly getting outmaneuvered by a precocious 13-year-old James Bond (and ultimately drowned, shot, blasted to smithereens or poisoned by sea urchins). Similarly, in Anthony Horowitz's assembly-line Alex Rider thrillers, an endless series of ghastly men â usually shady foreigners â have their dreams of world conquest thwarted and their lives terminated through the efforts of a 14-year-old spy obviously patterned after Agent 007.
From both series we learn that (1) teenagers should never trust adults; (2) nothing could be more humiliating for a satanic adult male than to have his dreams of global hegemony, nuclear devastation or mass infanticide sabotaged by a lowly adolescent. Especially an English public school boy.
Higson and Horowitz both have new books out, and Higson's is the better by far. "Blood Fever" is a parent's dream: young-adult beach reading from which the young adult can actually learn something. Via his exposure to weird Latin teachers, mysterious surrealists and gangsters with names like Count Ugo Carnifex, young James Bond, conveniently orphaned, learns about the etymology of the word "ogre" (Magyar), the Roman rape of Carthage, the wines of Oliena and the cult of Mithras.
Higson has diligently channeled the spirit of Ian Fleming, producing a book that has the same sort of appeal as the grown-up 007 novels: loads of violence bathed in an aura of sophistication (exclamations like "Beau combat! Tu l'as massacrÃ©!" cannot help but impress the impressionable). The teenage secret agent Higson has created is a resourceful, masculine protagonist who is rapidly learning a lot about wine, art, firearms and women. It is not terribly hard to imagine him assimilating this data and growing up to be Fleming's dark, elegant James Bond. Growing up to be Sean Connery's gritty, working-class Bond? That's going to take more work.
Horowitz's "Ark Angel" is not in the same weight class. Less a precocious James Bond than a callow Indiana Jones, the also conveniently orphaned Alex Rider is a bit slow on the uptake, constantly getting guns pointed at his head by villains whose motives are not nearly as hard to decipher as Rider makes them out to be. A rehash of Horowitz's previous books ("Stormbreaker," "Eagle Strike," "Scorpia," among others), "Ark Angel" centers on a cadre of feckless eco-terrorists bent on sabotaging a Russian billionaire's attempt to build the first luxury hotel in outer space. As in the previous books, a beloved plutocrat is ultimately exposed as a bloodthirsty psychopath, the good turn out to be bad, this turns out to be that, but not before Alex has narrowly escaped incineration, a plunge off a high-rise, suffocation and drowning.
Horowitz, a clunky, uninspiring prose stylist, is most effective when attempting to recreate the violent ambience in the James Bond books, even introducing a recurring gadget-mad scientist who is clearly a clone of Fleming's Q. But unlike "Blood Fever," "Ark Angel" has zero intellectual content: it is merely a ripping yarn, one that resembles yarns we have read before.
In the most recent "Star Wars" films, the public is asked to believe that the earnest but somewhat plodding Ewan McGregor will one day grow up to be the suave, Delphic Obi-Wan Kenobi (Alec Guinness), and that the dashing but balsa-weight Hayden Christensen will eventually mature into a he-man megalomaniac like Darth Vader (voiced by James Earl Jones). Unlikely. In similar fashion, readers of Horowitz's mechanical page-turners are expected to believe that the oddly bland, humorless Alex Rider will eventually morph into a tough hombre like James Bond. Sorry, Alex. We knew 007. 007 was a friend of ours. And you, sonny, are no 007.
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