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General Sarov: You and I will die but the end result will be the same.
Alex Rider: A better world...?
General Sarov: That's all I ever wanted, Alex! All this! I was only doing what I believed in! Give me the key card or I will shoot you!
Alex Rider: (throws the key card into the ocean) Go ahead then if that's what you want, shoot me.
General Sarov: Why?
Alex Rider: I'd rather be dead than have a father like you.

—General Sarov's and Alex last quabble

General Alexei Sarov is the main antagonist in Skeleton Key, the third Alex Rider novel.

Russian General who still lives in the old days of communist Russia. Sarov was sixty-two years old, but looked "twenty years younger". He is described as not being particularly tall, but he "radiates power and control". He normally dresses in suits, and is described as having short grey hair, pale blue eyes, and an emotionless face.


General Sarov orders 1 kg of uranium-235 from a criminal leader known to one and all simply as "the Salesman". He gets it from 3 couriers who fly to his island of Skeleton Key (which is how that ties into the title), at the cost of $1,000,000. When Sarov reveals he has to raise the money, the couriers warn him they will alert American intelligence if they don't get it in three days. Assuming this to be a threat, Sarov orchestrates the deaths of the three couriers through a trick in runway lighting, leading the plane into a crocodile-infested swamp, where they get eaten. He then loads the uranium in the Jeep he comes in and leaves.


On the run from the Triads, Alex is sent off to Cuba by Alan Blunt from MI6, as protection. Alex is inwardly seething because although Blunt promised him protection, it seems he has been sent on the front line of World War Three. Alex is attached to two CIA agents who are investigating General Alexei Sarov, a ruthless Russian Soviet Union general who wants to purchase uranium. Nobody is sure why he needs it, nor why a plane flew into Skeleton Key Island and never flew out again, nor why uranium was on the plane, nor why the Russian president (representing new Russia) is meeting his schoolfriend Alexei Sarov (representing old Russia). The two are meant to be enemies - "the old general and the new president", according to either Blunt or Byrne.

The CIA certainly aren't telling Alex why they are there, but Alex works it out for himself when his Gameboy has a Geiger counter installed in it, and he wondered about it since agent Troy told him not to drop it on the plane, and when it squeaked when it picked up quartz (radioactive) in his bedroom clock. The CIA agents know General Sarov is watching them, his agent the Salesman is proof of it. When Sarov sends his man Conrad to blow up the greedy Salesman and prevent a double-cross, Alex realizes the agents are in danger and heads onto the boat to save the ungrateful agent Turner. Then Alex manages to go scuba-diving with the agents, despite their guide's rebuffs, and Alex is told to stay on board by Turner and Troy, who dive into the sea and are never seen again. The guide makes snide remarks about how Alex humiliated the agents, by being a child, but Alex said it's not his fault and he didn't choose to be there. Alex realizes, because the agents are strict, that they are in trouble, so he goes into the water, but finds a great white. It is impaled by traps in General Sarov's waste-disposal cave, which also killed the CIA agents. Alex decides not to climb up the ladder, and he swims back on the boat, finding the guide murdered by Sarov's men, who take him captive to the Golden House.

General Sarov meets Alex and saves him from being crushed to death in a cold fashion by Conrad, the deformed henchman he employs. General Sarov apologizes to Alex profusely, and says he didn't wish to kill him and he in fact wants to adopt him, because his own son had been killed in war ravaged Italy in the 1940s, and General Sarov knew his son resembled Alex, and he also says they both have the same name. He says, despite them being a world apart, they don't need to be.

General Sarov takes Alex on a tour round Skeleton Key, and then says the Russian president is arriving and he wants him locked in his room, and then at dinner he will meet him again.

Alex, desperate to contact MI6 or CIA, escapes in a car, but is found by General Sarov who threatens to shoot him before he faints and is taken to his room but Sarov says "If you wanted to visit town all you had to do was say."

General Sarov then invites Alex for dinner, and Alex meets president Boris Koriyenko, who is revealed to have been a cowardly, bullying schoolfriend of Sarov's. General Sarov has Boris filmed playing in the pool with young women and drinking and making foolish speeches. Then the film is edited, manipulated.

General Sarov has thirteen men for dinner, including Boris, which Alex notes as unlucky. General Sarov makes a sarcastic speech insulting Boris, but the drunken president takes it as a joke. General Sarov then toasts them all, and all the men drink, but then get knocked out by a drug in the caviar (or more probably the vodka), and collapse backwards. Boris is the last to be unconscious, and is about to angrily shoot Sarov but he falls over.

Then General Sarov takes Alex on a drive to the airport, and shows him the bomb he has: it is tiny, but has enough power to destroy half a country. General Sarov explains his idea to Alex in the plane (which belongs to Boris, since he's the President; his pilot is devoutly worshipping Sarov) - he wishes to undo the collapse of the Soviet Union, the destruction of communism, and rebuild a communist empire worldwide, with the deaths of all his enemies, the deaths of all the sick and poor Russians, and the rebuilding of Russia with the rich, healthy, militaristic and bright Russians, communists and socialists prevailing, with General Sarov as world leader and Alex as his son and heir. Alex opposes the whole idea, and escapes at first opportunity. He runs to the terminal where he desperately tries to persuade a security guard of Sarov's insanity.

But the stupid security guard threatens to have Alex arrested when he lands at Edinburgh and he threatens to call police for Alex not having a passport. But Alex tells them he works for MI6, and Sarov is mad, and has a bomb, and is extremely dangerous. The security pass on the radio message (which they hear because the security guard's phone is on) to police, then to MI6, then the security services send out men to Murmansk, where General Sarov has his fleet of rusting submarines which he will use to blow up and contaminate Russia. He also explains Britain will be affected and London will be uninhabitable.

General Sarov has Conrad shoot the guard and they both fly off to Murmansk with Alex again. At Murmansk, the bomb is inserted, and the men kill all the guards at the port, and take over. Suddenly, in the midst of the operation, the Russian navy arrive, and begin shooting. Alex is being strangled by an enraged Conrad, but he gets Conrad caught onto a magnetic plate because ninety per cent of his body is filled with plates, and then Alex disarms the bomb, throwing the key into the murky water.

General Sarov comes up and demands Alex undo what he did. Alex said he would rather not. General Sarov said Alex would have been his son, but Alex said he'd rather be dead then have a father like him, so Sarov, devastated, took out his gun and shot himself in the head, killing himself in front of Alex.


Sarov was a hero of the old Russia. He was made a general when he was only thirty-eight - the same year that his country invaded Afghanistan. He fought there for ten years, rising to be second in command of the Red Army. He had a son who was killed there. Sarov didn't even go to the funeral. It would have meant abandoning his men and he couldn't do that - not even for one day

—Tulip Jones regarding Sarov's dedication to Russia

Alexei Sarov behaves like a ruthless but calculating general: He is extremely ruthless, highly patriotic and very callous. He was emotionally attached in several negative ways and was almost fanatic about his so-called patriotism, seeing significance in the fact that he was born in the same year as Russia was invaded by the Nazis. He was ruthless enough to murder his own allies, namely the Salesman, in order to cover his tracks, and to coldly null his marriage to his wife after they disagreed over his plans for his son. He was wealthy and protagonistic towards others on the outside, but is in fact snake-hearted and callous. He wasn't entirely inhuman as he actually contained emotion, but this has also made him morally insane - he truly loved his son, but went mad with grief over him to the extent that he would try and picture Alex Rider in his image, to the point that he ironically made Alex dislike him and realise how dangerous and unhinged he truly was. He was extremely controlling and selfish over almost everything, and he will do anything to achieve his will.

He was self-loathing and antisocial, concealing himself for the majority of his life. Whilst Herod Sayle was vengeful and bitter, Hugo Grief was arrogant and malicious, General Sarov was better understood as flat-out delusional. He was fanatic about communism and about his apparent 'services' to Russia, so much that he didn't realise that his plan on restoring communism was monstrous, seeing the millions of deaths that would come as consequence of this to be completely necessary. However, Sarov's sense of stability shattered eventually when Alex Rider rebelled against him and finally defied him, declaring he would have rather died than be a son to Sarov. The general took this heartbreakingly badly, given that he had deluded himself into believing that Alex was his son reincarnated that he couldn't have anticipated such severe defiance from him; furthermore, Sarov's fragile grip on reality which relied on the concept that what he was doing was right was also broken, since his actions had turned his new 'son' against him, compelling him to shoot himself.


  • There are numerous contradictions regarding the timeframe the series is written in, one of them regarding Sarov; Although Alex's birth year is officially 1987 (so he would be fourteen in 2001) it has been said that Sarov was born in 1940, but in Skeleton Key, he is sixty-two years old, meaning that the events of the books must occur in 2002 (when Alex would be fifteen years old instead of fourteen) if this is to be an accurate statement, unless his Birthday is after the events with Sarov.
  • He is one of the few antagonists who does not actively try to kill Alex Rider.
  • He had a son named Vladimir who was a gymnastic champion before joining the army, Vladimir was then send to Afghanistan before being shot by a sniper. This incident also ended Sarov's marriage.
  • He tried to adopt Alex because it reminds him of his son Vladimir (who died in Afghanistan) every time he see Alex.


Skeleton Key Characters
Main Characters
Alex RiderAlan BluntTulip JonesJack StarbrightAlexei SarovSabina Pleasure
Other Key Characters
Joe ByrneSmithersBelinda TroyTom TurnerConradJohn CrawleyBoris Kiriyenko