|“||What does it take to make a killer?||”|
—Russian Roulette tagline
It serves as a prequel or spin-off to the Alex Rider series, but it will mainly focus on the childhood of the assassin that appears in many of the books, Yassen Gregorovich.
The release date (September 2013) and title (Russian Roulette) have been announced via Twitter.
"YASSEN. That’s not the title – I’m still working on it. But I hope to head off to Russia later this year to research Alex 8." -- In a general blog post
Anthony stated in his blog that he had yet to create a concrete title, but has been referring to this project as "Russian Roulette."
Shortly after the Science Museum scene in Stormbreaker, Yassen Gregorovich, who was staying at a hotel named "The Traveller", receives an order to kill Alex Rider. The connection the two of them share prompts Yassen to recall his past, by inserting a memory stick which contains his diary in digital format into his Apple Mac laptop.
Yassen reveals that he was named "Yasha" originally and that it evolved into "Yassen" quite accidentally. He was born in a small Russian village named Estrov, in a rather rural area. It did not have a railway station, consisting only of a few houses and a church. Yassen's parents worked at a factory nearby, which apparently produced fertilisers (but in fact also secretly developed chemical weapons for the Russian government). Yassen attended a school in a nearby town, Rosna, and befriended a boy named Leo Tretyakov. The two had a great bond of friendship between them and they had smoked cigarettes together, despite being 14 at the time. A passion for helicopters is also revealed in Yassen's character - he has read a lot of magazines regarding these vehicles and seems to have had an extensive knowledge concerning them, despite his rural background. It is mentioned on many occasions how Yassen used to look enviously at planes that would fly over his village. However, Yassen had a far-reaching bond with his place of birth, which is revealed in the story.
Yassen is forced to flee his home after an accident at the factory contaminates the whole village with a deadly strain of anthrax, which had been genetically modified to spread much more faster than it would in normal conditions. No one in the village had been aware of the catastrophe, but they could sense that something was amiss. Yassen, however, was made aware of the situation by his parents, who had immediately broken out of the facility once the accident took place, with the intention of saving Yassen, defying direct orders and protocol in the process. (The factory workers had been ordered not to leave the premises, in order to quarantine those who were already contaminated.) It had been a pretty useless precaution for the bacterium had already been released into the atmosphere. In the process of breaking out of the factory Yassen's father had been shot and had suffered severe injuries. A bewildered Yassen is brought up to speed and his parents vaguely reveal that they had not been working in the factory out of their own free will. They also openly confess that they had been ashamed of being involved in the whole affair. They advise Yassen to immediately flee from the village, go to Moscow and seek Misha Dementyev, who had been a friend of Yassen's father. The parents recommend a route through the forest, adjoining Estrov and through Kirsk. While the entire village is contaminated, Yassen alone survives, having been given the only sample of antidote which had been devised by Yassen's father, who had been one of the scientists who were responsible for the anthrax in the first place. The Russian authorities proceed to send gunships to destroy the village, both to contain the outbreak and cover up the development of the chemical weaponry. Yassen escapes with his best friend Leo, but they are pursued by a band of soldiers who had been ordered to hunt down all the survivors of the Estrov disaster, in an attempt to once again quarantine the spreading virus. When running in the woods they escape through a narrow sewage pipe and crawl for miles. Later when they find a road on the outside of a pipe they find shelter in an old construction hut. When they spend the night Leo dies of the disease and Yassen continues on alone to the nearest city. When he arrives there he tries to sneak on a train but is caught by the police. He tricks them into thinking he died of anthrax and escapes onto a train for Moscow.
Yassen makes his way to Moscow and he meets a young man who steals his money he escaped with. He continues on and finds Dementyev in an old college. Rather than render assistance, Dementyev calls the police, aware that Yassen is a loose end regarding the chemical weapons development. Yassen evades arrest and joins the gang of petty thieves who had pickpocketed him earlier. After a few days, the group decides to burgle a house. Yassen convinces them to rob a flat owned by Vladimir Sharkovsky, a wealthy businessman with whom he earlier overheard Dementyev converse with on the phone. Being the smallest of the gang Yassen is chosen to crawl through a fortochka and let the other members into the house.
Sharkovsky unexpectedly returns to the flat and captures Yassen, but decides to let him live due to the recent demise of his food taster. He forces Yassen to play a game of Russian Roulette with a single bullet, which he survives. After making two unsuccessful attempts to escape, Yassen spends the next four years at Sharkovsky's estate, serving as his food taster as well as a general labourer. One night, he learns that Sharkovsky had been responsible for the deaths of his parents and subsequent destruction of his village, having cut corners regarding safety at the factory in order to increase profit. Yassen then endeavours to kill him.
Yassen's imprisonment ends when a Scorpia assassin by the name of Grant infiltrates the compound and shoots Sharkovsky, apparently killing him. Yassen persuades Grant to let him escape with him. Grant takes him to The Widow's Palace, where Yassen is introduced to Julia Rothman, one of the leaders of Scorpia. It then transpires that Sharkovsky in fact survived the attempt on his life, and Grant is subsequently killed by Rothman for his failure. Rothman offers to let Yassen join Scorpia - because of his past, no records of him exist anywhere in the world, making it nigh impossible for authorities to track him down. Yassen agrees, his only other option being to return to Russia, where Sharkovsky's people will no doubt be looking for him.
Yassen spends the next four months at Scorpia's training facility on the island of Malagosto before being given his first contract. When the time comes, Yassen is unable to take the target's life, and she is subsequently killed by another Scorpia agent. Though disappointed with him, Scorpia decide to give Yassen a second chance, and pair him up with John Rider, Alex Rider's father.
John and Yassen work on two contracts together. During the first contract, John saves Yassen's life, expresses doubt that Yassen has it in him to be a killer, and suggests that he give up if he does not want to be one. The second contract takes place in Paris, where Yassen again refuses to kill the target, and admits to John that he does not want to be an assassin. As John and Yassen wait in an airport – Yassen planning to board a plane to Berlin and disappear – Yassen discovers a gadget from MI6 in John's luggage, and realises from this, as well as a number of details he noticed during the time spent with him, that John is an MI6 double agent working against Scorpia.
Feeling betrayed from this revelation, and guessing that John has warned Scorpia about his defection in an attempt to weaken them further, Yassen abandons his original plans and returns to Sharkovsky's estate, using the skills he learned from Scorpia to infiltrate the place and confront Sharkovsky. He reveals his true identity, as well as Sharkovsky's role in influencing his life. Again, Yassen plays anti-Russian Roulette in front of Sharkovsky, with five bullets in the revolver as opposed to one, seeing it as his last chance to leave the path of a killer. Yassen once again survives, and kills Sharkovsky as well as his son.
The final chapter re-enacts the epilogue of Stormbreaker, except it is seen through Yassen's perspective, and gives the true reasons for his decisions. It reveals that Yassen became a professional killer largely to prove John's beliefs about him wrong. He kills Herod Sayle, not because of orders from Scorpia (though he believes they will eventually want Sayle killed), but so he could talk with Alex. He chooses to disregard Scorpia's order to kill the boy, feeling that he still owes John his life, and tells him not to become a spy, since he still feels that Alex has a chance at a normal life.
Originally, "Yassen" was to follow Snakehead as the eighth book in the series, and would be the final Alex Rider novel, though Horowitz rethought this idea following negative responses during school visits.
Regarding the eighth book, Horowitz stated in 2008: "I've had second thoughts about telling Yassen’s story, which was going to be the subject of this book. I’m thinking of leaving that to number nine. Instead, I’ve got the beginnings of an idea set partly in the UK and partly in Africa."
Eventually, Horowitz decided to write the final Alex Rider novel Scorpia Rising first, and decided to write "Yassen" sometime after that.
Anthony Horowitz says on his blog
"...I’ve finally started work on the eighth novel although I don’t think it’ll be out for quite a while. After much thought, I’ve decided to leave YASSEN (the book I was planning) to the very end of the series. This follows a whole series of school visits where people have been a bit half-hearted about the idea…and I do try to listen to what my readers say! So instead, I’m going to write a full-blooded Alex adventure which begins straight after SNAKEHEAD...-- In a general post
" ...(Well, I’m still going to write about Yassen and I do have one surprise up my sleeve, several years down the line – but this is the last in the series.) I’m really pleased with the way it’s turned out. I think it’s the best of the lot – perhaps the best book I’ve ever written." -- In a post on Scorpia Rising
Fans of the Alex Rider series are eager for the arrival of this book, Yassen Gregorovich becoming and remaining one of the most popular characters in the series since his first appearance in Stormbreaker. It came out in the U.S. during October 1, 2013.
- General information: various sources, including but not limited to: