Russian Roulette (Review)

What makes someone a hero? What drives them to become a killer?

These are the core questions at the heart of the much-anticipated sequel to Anthony Horowitz’s Alex Rider series. Russian Roulette takes a look at the series’ main antagonist, Yassen Gregorovich: his life leading up to the fateful moment when he joins SCORPIA to become a contract killer, and explores just how inextricably linked both Yassen and Alex’s lives are.

Friends, family and readers of this blog will know that I’m a huge fan of Anthony Horowitz, so this review is probably a bit biased. But after reading this prequel, Horowitz’s skill at crafting such a complex story with multilayered themes cements his position as one of my all-time favorite writers. And returning to the shadowy world of Alex Rider took me back many years as a reader, to when I first discovered the series.

I did not expect this book to be so emotionally charged. We grew to hate Yassen in the earlier Alex Rider books; what he supposedly did was despicable and rooted him as our teenage hero’s nemesis. But in Russian Roulette, we explore the portrait of a child desperate to survive in a post-Communist Russia ravaged by conspiracies revolving around ruthless foreign investments and deadly technologies.

First-person narrative is a powerful device to get right into a character’s mind, and Horowitz uses this well in the main portion of the story, through the format of a memoir. Indeed, presenting Yassen’s story as a memoir makes for a rather romantic attitude to the whole assassin tale. We move with Yassen as he grows up, alone, into a harsh world and develops a hatred for the man who destroyed his entire existence, his entire childhood: Vladimir Sharkovsky.

Horowitz probes the very psychology of how a killer is made by tracing Yassem’s story from the quiet village of (fictional) Estrov, to the hustling streets of Moscow; from the timeless beauty of Venice and the sinister Widow’s Palace to the sweltering jungles of Peru, skyscrapers in New York City and, of course, the island of Malagosto, where Yassen’s transformation begins.

Fans of the series will recognize allusions to events in the future, especially the fateful moment with Yassen and Hunter (trying to avoid spoilers here!) that Horowitz wrote as a prologue to Alex’s fourth mission, Eagle Strike.

It is difficult to justify a hero as someone who kills for a living. But in Russian Roulette, Horowitz writes Yassen as a character that we truly feel for, and root for to the very end. It is true that one should never be quick to judge character based on mere assumption. In Russian Roulette, we see how an innocent boy, a child who had dreams and aspirations, is so easily transformed into a cold-blooded killer thorough the subtle events that subsequently influence decisions leading him down a path to the fearsome SCORPIA.

For any fan of Anthony Horowitz, and of his Alex Rider series, this book is a must-read. The epilogue alone makes it worth the read, deftly tying this book to the first of the Alex Rider stories: Stormbreaker. 5/5 Stars.

My December 2013 Reading List

Last November/December, I read five insanely great books: Oblivion by Anthony HorowitzOn Writing by Stephen King, and The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, and Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins. The Hunger Games trilogy was one of my most favourite reading experiences in a long time – you can read more about it in my review of the trilogy here.

So with yet another long holiday, I’ve decided to set out a list of books I aim to get through. Being an avid reader with limited time during most of the year, I’ve been looking forward to devouring these titles for some time now.

So without further ado, here’s the 2013 December Reading List:

  • Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk
  • Russian Roulette by Anthony Horowitz
  • David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell
  • Story Physics by Larry Brooks
  • The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith/J.K. Rowling

I’ve been wanting to read Fight Club ever since I saw the film; Russian Roulette is a must, being a die-hard Alex Rider fan; David and Goliath stems from my interest being piqued by Gladwell’s writing and insights after reading Outliers; Story Physics is a must after reading Story Engineering, and I hope to learn more from it about the intricate process of crafting novels. And then there’s The Cuckoo’s Calling, a surprise entry which I have to read after finding out that J.K. Rowling, one of my all-time favourite writers, was behind the mask of Robert Galbraith. Oh, and it’s apparently a brilliant thriller too.

This list is as much a public commitment and a tracker for myself, as it is a way of sharing my reading interests with you, dear reader. Be sure to check back on this blog to read my thoughts on these books as I finish them. Also, if you’re on Goodreads, you’re welcome to add me (https://www.goodreads.com/rahuldowlath <– that’s me on the reading social network ;)). And leave a comment below if you have any suggestions for good books to read.

Four Books I’m Looking Forward To

Along with some great films releasing over the remainder of 2012, this year promises to be an excellent year for books. Here’s my list of books I can’t wait to get lost in over the next few months:

  • Spud – Exit, Pursued by a Bear

    John van de Ruit’s final installment in the popular Spud franchise. Love the books or hate them, they have become wildly successful here in South Africa, and their combination of humour and wit are the perfect blend for an escapist read. The book lands on shelves on the 4th of August.

  • Artemis Fowl: The Last Guardian

    Artemis Fowl has become one of my favourite characters in teen fiction. Whilst my reading tastes have certainly changed over time, Artemis has been (and always is) a fun read. Even though most of us prefer to think that we’re “higher” than the level of teen fiction, in a market saturated by vampire fiction, it’s refreshing to see a solid character set in an intriguing universe. Plus, Eoin Colfer is always fun to read!

  • Oblivion

    Anthony Horowitz is one of my favourite authors of all time. He has become, in a way, a mentor for my writing career, an inspiration spurring me to write better. Oblivion is the final installment in his brilliant Power of Five horror/thriller series. Judging from the previous books (especially Necropolis), Oblivion is set to be another page-turner. It’s also, apparently, the longest novel Horowitz has written.

  • The Casual Vacancy

    J.K. Rowling’s first novel since the final Harry Potter epic. Need I say more? Whilst there’ll be no wizards in this new book, there’s sure to be Rowling’s distinct magic emblazoned upon each of the 512 pages. Release date: 27 September 2012.