The prequel to the Alex Rider series came out a while ago at this point, but I only just got around to it. As with the Godzilla book, I had it here for months, but I finally renewed it 10 times so this was my last chance to wrap things up. I just made it and am glad that I did as it was a good prequel. The ending was a little rushed I suppose, but it was still a good novel through and through. The writing is much better than what I saw in the Godzilla book and reminds me that we’ve still got solid books out there. You’ve just got to know where to look.
The main character of this Yasha, but his name quickly changes to Yassan so I’ll just keep it that way. The adventure starts him off as a child, but a plague infects his village and his parents have just enough time to give him a cure. Yassan is now the only survivor of that village and it has effectively been wiped off the map. Yassan is now a non person who does not even exist according to computer records. This puts him in a pretty interesting spot as his enemies won’t know about him, but vice versa as well. He goes through many hardships and ends up working as a slave for the man who was responsible for the incident. Through the Alex Rider events, we know that Yassan ends up….well, I won’t say who he works for I suppose, but you should have read the other books already before checking out the prequels. Needless to say, we know the ending, but this book is all about how he gets there.
In that sense, I think that things get a little iffy. As the book is from Yassan’s point of view, we learn a whole lot about the character. He was actually a very nice person back in the day and he really just wanted to fly a helicopter. Unfortunately, the village being wiped out put him on the path to destruction from the beginning. Working as a servant was essentially unavoidable and getting out of the situation was difficult, if not impossible. Those were tough years and his decision to escape was certainly a good one. From there, things just go from bad to worse.
The book’s plot is constantly evolving and adapting because it has to cover a whole lot of plot in a mere 400 pages. (More like 370, but close enough) I don’t want to mention all of the plot developments so I’ll mainly try to keep it vague, but this is still a review so I need to touch on some things. The best part of the book was probably the training facility that he goes too in the second half. That sounded like a pretty interesting chapter in his life and it would have been fun to have seen it get some more screen time. That part is glossed over the most so that we can see him as a professional.
Throughout the whole book, Yassan is mainly trying to not cross the line. He doesn’t mind stealing or committing other such acts in order to survive, but taking another person’s life is something that he doesn’t want to do. Unfortunately, it gets harder and harder to do this as his situation continues to get more dire. One of the reasons why Yassan was such a great character is he continues to choose not to pull the trigger even when it may mean death for him. It’s one of the reasons why he was lucky not to have any friends or family left. The villains could not use anyone as leverage against Yassan and threatening the main character’s life doesn’t have the same impact.
That’s why the ending just comes so suddenly. There is treachery in the air and Yassan gets very upset at the final twist. That being said, it unhinges him more than you would expect and he essentially decides to become a mass murderer just to spite someone. That is the part that came out of left field for me. The whole book, his consciousness had kept him from crossing the line and while he got upset at the end, it still seems like a big leap in logic to just start destroying everyone. Destroy the guy who betrayed you for sure, but taking it out on everyone was a little much. Yassan wanted to prove a point, which is why he didn’t destroy the traitor, but it was still definitely a bit much.
I feel like the author was running out of time and didn’t want to stretch this out into multiple books and just wanted to end things. I would have been happy to have had more books about Yassan, but maybe the fast pacing is what ultimately made this such an enjoyable book. I can certainly say that I enjoyed it much more than any of the Alex Rider novels and this was one of the most interesting books that I have read. The ending is the one sour spot for me and I knew that it was coming of course, but I just didn’t buy it. You could almost say that the author was trapped by the Alex Rider books as he had to keep Yassan in line with his self in the books even if the personality was different.
The author should have almost made this prequel non canon to just let Yassan end out with an escape. Disappearing forever was the plan that he had been leaning towards and it made the most sense. I was almost expecting him to go through with it at one point and then we’d get a sequel to see how he got pulled into the madness once again. That would have made much more sense and I can’t stress enough how much a sequel would have helped the ending. There’s also a chance that a sequel would jump the shark though so maybe it’s better safe than sorry.
The actual writing is very engaging and the author certainly has experience with writing a compelling novel. The characters don’t all sound like generic movie protagonists and they have character. You will feel bad for Yassan as the whole book is basically one tragedy after the other, but the author doesn’t overdo it. It’s sad and you’ll feel bad for the guy, but it’s done naturally and not just brought up to constantly remind you that you should feel bad for him. There’s one quick scene of animal violence at the end involving a spider, but it’s also handled really quickly and I suppose that it is easier for that not to hurt the score in a book than other forms of media. Although, it still depends on how it is handled.
Quite a few characters show up including Alex Rider’s dad. The dad was fairly likable although it’s hard to know what to think of him by the end. I guess I’m not a fan and he could have handled things much better. I also think that Yassan should have been able to defeat him in a fight. Thinking about it, the book doesn’t really have much of a climax. There is action throughout and yet there are very few action scenes. The dialogue is just strong enough to hold the novel up on its own, which is neat. There are quite a few likable characters throughout the book just as there are unlikable ones, but it is a colorful cast. The book gives us some nice details on how Yassan gets ready for a mission without going overboard and it was nice to see him continue to make the right decisions.
Overall, This was an excellent book and just what I needed after finishing Godzilla. Godzilla wasn’t exactly the big return to novels that I had been looking for so I’m glad that I got to find an elite title so quickly. If not for the ending, I dare say that this could be the best stand alone novel that I’ve read. It’s part of the Alex Rider franchise of course and many places just list it as being in the series, but I like to think of the prequel as being its own separate thing. Still canon and in the franchise, but not to be counted with the rest of the books as being in the series. If Yassan had stayed true to himself and ended out on a positive note, I probably would have given this a 10. I’m not even sure which book (If any) I’ve given a perfect score yet, but this probably would have snatched it away. The ending should have just been Yassan walking away and we still could have gotten the moment where he was back in the future and the author leading us to wonder how he got to that point. Still, abrupt ending or not, I highly recommend reading this title. You don’t need to read the Alex Rider books at all to understand what is happening here although it will give you more insight. As with just about every prequel, you can read this before the main series or after it. Either way, it works very well and it’s an engaging piece to read from start to finish. I also read it in hardcover, which helped a bit since I love that format. I’m not sure when I’ll have another book review up as it could be a while, but it’ll be tough to pass this one. It would be cool if the book got a film adaption someday to bring the Alex Rider franchise back into the forefront, but I don’t see that happening for quite a while, if ever.