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Originally published Friday, March 25, 2011 at 4:00 PM

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'Scorpia Rising' is a rousing coda to Alex Rider teen-spy series

Kids' books: Anthony Horowitz ends his popular Alex Rider novel series with the just-published, action-packed "Scorpia Rising" (Philomel, $17.99, ages 10 up).

Scripps Howard News Service

For the millions of fans of teenage spy Alex Rider, there's both bad news and good news.

The bad news: Anthony Horowitz, author of the Alex Rider novels, says the just-published "Scorpia Rising" (Philomel, $17.99, ages 10 up) is the final volume in the best-selling series. On the good-news side, however, Horowitz ends the series with a rip-roaring yarn, packed with the kind of fast-paced action and gee-whiz gadgetry that has helped the eight previous Rider books sell more than 12 million copies.

In a recent telephone interview from his New York City hotel, Horowitz said that, while he felt a bit sad to conclude the series, it was time.

"I wanted to end it on a high note, and I think I did that," Horowitz said.

Horowitz also said he felt pressure from Alex's "ticking" biological clock because of his decision to keep his hero's adventures within a single year of his life — age 14. In "Stormbreaker," the first volume of the series published in 2001, Alex is just a couple of months past his 14th birthday and, in "Scorpia Rising," Alex has just turned 15.

So, as he wrote the Rider books over the past decade, Horowitz said he knew that there would be a finite amount of adventures for his hero.

"There's only a certain amount of times that Alex can be shot at and escape, only a certain number of adventures he could have in that one year, without straining credulity," Horowitz said.

As the series has developed, Alex also has become a more complex character. In "Stormbreaker," he first learns that his father and uncle were both killed during their work as spies, and reluctantly takes on his own first mission for MI6, the British equivalent of the CIA.

The officials who head MI6 are thrilled to have a teenage spy. Not only is Alex highly intelligent, physically fit and courageous, but he also has the advantage of surprising his enemies, who aren't expecting such a young secret agent.

Unlike James Bond, however, Alex isn't at all happy about being a spy, and each successive book in the series shows Alex becoming more reluctant about taking on yet another MI6 mission. There's a good reason: The bad guys don't care that Alex is just a teenager, and they do their best to kill him. With skill, some very cool gadgets and a huge dose of luck, Alex manages to outsmart his enemies, but at an ever-increasing emotional cost.

"The whole key to the success of the series is that Alex is not a willing hero," orowitz said. "If you look at 'Stormbreaker' and then 'Scorpia Rising,' you'll see that everything has changed. The language has changed, Alex has changed. But that is a good thing, I think. When you're writing a series, if everyone is the same from start to finish, what's the point? It's got to be a journey."
In "Scorpia Rising," Horowitz delves more deeply than ever before into the violent world of terrorism. In fact, the book's entire first section is devoted to a look at the efforts of the fictional terrorist organization Scorpia to rebuild itself after Alex has twice managed to outmaneuver it.

Horowitz's decision to open "Scorpia Rising" this way is a bit of a gamble, since Alex himself doesn't appear until Chapter 7. But it definitely builds tension as readers understand how hard Scorpia is working to both reclaim its role as the world's premier terrorist organization and to destroy Alex Rider.

Alex, meanwhile, had been hoping that his spying days were behind him. He's settled back into Brookland School and his life with Jack Starbright, the young woman who became his guardian in "Stormbreaker." But this normal life is upended once again when a sniper fires on Alex at school, and MI6 persuades him that it can guarantee his safety if he undertakes one more mission by becoming a student at an international school in Cairo.

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Little does Alex — or MI6 — know that it's all a trap to get the teenager into the hands of the reconstituted Scorpia. Alex and Jack, who has accompanied him to Egypt, are eventually taken prisoner and find themselves face-to-face with a villain who is as brilliant as he is evil. Alex also meets again with an old nemesis, Julian Grieff. Before "Scorpia Rising" concludes, Alex will use a gun to kill — for the first time — and his life will be forever changed.

While Alex is now "older and sadder," Horowitz tried not to dwell on that too much in "Scorpia Rising."

"I didn't want to write a sad or painful book; I wanted to write a fun book," he said. "These books are meant to be fun adventures, after all."

Although he's concluded the series, Horowitz still has plenty of writing to do. He's just finished the first new Sherlock Holmes novel for adults ever authorized by the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle estate; the book will be released in November. (The estate authorized a new series created by British author Andrew Lane that is focused on Holmes' teenage years. The first in the series, "Death Cloud," was released last month.)

Horowitz is now working on writing the script for a film featuring another prominent literary character, the boy detective named Tintin. And Horowitz also plans to wrap up his other two series for children, "The Power of Five" and "The Diamond Brothers."

Overall, Horowitz says that he feels truly fortunate to have a job that he loves so much.

"I write with passion ... and I still take the same joy in that as I did when I first began writing years ago."

Karen MacPherson, the children's/teen librarian at the Takoma Park, Md., Library, can be reached at Kam.Macpherson@gmail.com.

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