First edition cover
|Series||Alex Rider series|
|Genre||Adventure, Spy novel, thriller|
|Publisher||Walker Books (UK)|
|1 April 2004 (UK)|
17 March 2005 (US)
|Media type||Print (Hardback & Paperback)|
|Pages||369 pg. (first edition, paperback) 388 pg. (second edition, paperback) 312 pg. (third edition, hardback)|
|ISBN||0-7445-8323-3 (first edition, paperback) ISBN 0-399-24151-5 (first edition, hardback)|
|LC Class||PZ7.H7875 Sc 2004|
|Preceded by||Eagle Strike|
|Followed by||Ark Angel|
The plot concerns the plans of a criminal organisation attempting to disrupt the "Special Relationship" between the United Kingdom and the United States, which Alex foils by infiltrating the organisation.
After the events of Eagle Strike, Alex Rider goes on a school trip to Venice, Italy in order to investigate Scorpia, having been told to do so by Yassen Gregorovitch if he wished to learn about his father. With the help of his best friend Tom Harris, Alex manages to sneak into a party hosted by Julia Rothman, whom he believes have a link to Scorpia, and discovers evidence linking the organization to a pharmaceutical company called Consanto Enterprises. Before Alex can learn more, he is confronted by a Scorpia agent named Nile, who overpowers him and locks him in a room that will flood as the Venice tide increases, drowning him. Alex manages to escape into the Grand Canal. He then managed to board a train with Tom, as Consanto happens to be near Naples where Tom's brother, Jerry, is staying.
With the help of Jerry, Alex BASE jumps into Consanto Enterprises, and is eventually confronted by Dr. Liebermann, the head of the organization. Nile shows up, but much to Alex's surprise, he kills Liebermann and takes Alex to see Rothman after blowing up the factory. While having dinner with her, Alex is told about Scorpia, an organization that carries out acts of terrorism for money, that his father was a Scorpia agent, and was not killed in a plane crash as MI6 claimed, but was in fact murdered by them while being exchanged for one of Scorpia's hostages, at the command of Mrs Jones. After hearing this, Alex decides to join Scorpia and begins his training at Scorpia's "institute" on Malagosto, an island near Venice. He becomes a top student, but his instructors become concerned upon learning that he lacks a willingness to kill. On Rothman's suggestion, the headmaster sends Alex to kill Mrs Jones, in hopes that it will overcome his psychological barrier.
Meanwhile, Scorpia mail a list of political demands for the American Government to the British Government, warning them that if the demands are not followed through by 48 hours, Scorpia will use a weapon code named Invisible Sword to carry out a massacre of children in London, although it is apparent this demands cannot be fulfilled. As a demonstration, Scorpia use the weapon on the England national football team reserves as they return from a tournament in Nigeria. Despite the high security put in place at the airport, the team are all killed inexplicably. Elsewhere, disguised as a pizza delivery boy, Alex infiltrates Mrs Jones apartment where he attempts to carry out his operation. Though Alex finally fires at Mrs Jones, it hits an invisible pane of bulletproof glass, and he is captured by MI6. Alex later learns that he turned the gun away at the last moment.
Mr Blunt convinces Alex to help provide some information to a meeting of the United Kingdom's emergency COBRA committee. Based on Alex's observations, the group deduce that Scorpia has secretly added a lethal poison to a number of vaccines at Consanto Enterprises, including the yellow fever vaccines given to the football team, and the BCG injections recently received by London schoolchildren. They also figure out that Scorpia can activate the poison at will using beams of terahertz radiation. A search of the city for the dishes that will transmit the terahertz beams begins, but Jones and Blunt suspect that there is more to Scorpia's plan that meets the eye. They fake Alex's escape from MI6 custody to enable him to rejoin Rothman and learn the true location of the terahertz dishes.
Alex discovers that Rothman intends to use a hot air balloon to lift the dishes into position, keeping them out of sight until Scorpia's deadline. He also learns that Scorpia's plan is to destroy the special relationship between Britain and America. The demands to the Americans were deliberately made unreasonable to them; once Invisible Sword has been used, Scorpia will threaten the Americans with the weapon while making more lenient demands, intending to make them look unwilling to help their allies and turn them into an international pariah. Alex alerts MI6 to the launch site's location with a tracking device designed as a mouth brace, but gives himself away when he reveals his knowledge that children will be the primary target of the attack. An SAS squad sent to follow Alex assaults the launch site, and Alex uses the distraction to climb onto the balloon, closely followed by Nile. He manages to destroy the balloon, with Nile getting himself killed in the process, and the terahertz equipment is destroyed. Alex survives by clinging onto the balloon. Rothman is later killed when the equipment falls from the sky and crushes her.
A week later, Alex was briefed by MI6 and learns that John was in fact an MI6 double agent within Scorpia, and that his death at the hostage exchange had been faked, in order to both get him out of Scorpia and allow him to retire from the spy world. Alex's parents had indeed been killed in a plane crash, arranged by Rothman once she learned of John's betrayal. As Alex leaves MI6's headquarters, he is shot by a Scorpia assassin in retaliation for his actions, and the story ends on a cliffhanger.
The official review from Amazon Canada said, "Fans of the Alex Rider Adventures will not be disappointed by the slam-bang action in this fifth book in the spy thriller series, although the ending may leave them feeling a bit dismayed". The book won many awards including "The Children's Book of the Year" award at the Galaxy British Book Awards, and the BAA and Expedia Book Awards.