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Some Musings on Yassen Gregorovich - dorsetgirl
April 17th, 2011
07:36 pm
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Some Musings on Yassen Gregorovich
For those who don’t know, Yassen Gregorovich is an intriguing character in the Alex Rider books by Anthony Horowitz (AH). He was portrayed in the film Stormbreaker by British actor Damian Lewis.

I don’t have access to all the books at the moment, so these ramblings are unfortunately a little short on hard fact and actual quotes. Feel free to point out where I’ve got something wrong or interpreted it differently from how you see things.

Please note that there are spoilers under the cut for several Alex Rider books, including the last, Scorpia Rising.

So, I’ve been wondering if I’m the only person who got very excited indeed in to read (in Scorpia Rising) these words:

“The sixth man was an assassin. He hadn’t told them his name,
his nationality or how many people he had killed.”

I do know for a fact that I’m not the only person who was hoping for Scorpia Rising to bring back Yassen from the dead. And it didn’t happen, unless AH is being more subtle than is usual in books for fourteen-year-olds.

So, I’ve asked myself why the assassin was even mentioned. OK, so AH wanted to give us a flavour of the kind of person who was incarcerated in the secret secure facility. Fair enough; I liked the mention of the weapons inspector being hidden away for ever – a subtle reminder of some of the shadier policies of the previous government – but if the assassin was supposed to remind adult readers of some political point that AH wanted to put across then I’m afraid I missed it.

But if the assassin is merely there to illustrate the kind of person who qualifies for this top secret facility, why didn’t AH tell us how they’d caught him, and who he’d killed, or attempted to kill, when they caught him? It seemed odd to say there was an assassin there without giving slightly more detail. Like, how did anyone even know he was an assassin?

It seems to me that, with that line, AH is saying “We know an assassin, don’t we children? Can we remember what his name is?”

Er, yes, of course we can. It’s Yassen Gregor… Oh, hold on a minute. That’s his forename and patronymic. Because he’s Russian and that’s how they do it. So what’s his surname? We don’t know. In fact, how do we even know he’s Russian? Because AH told us so.

And why did he tell us that? Who knows? Although I suppose he does routinely tell us the background and nationality of his baddies, to illustrate exactly why they went bad. (Or, in the case of Razim, to show they were born bad).

Which leads me on to the next point: is Yassen Gregorovich a baddie? Well, yes, he is. He’s an assassin. He shoots people for money. Can’t get much badder than that. But this is a character around whom AH has muddied the waters big-time. Perhaps it’s just me, but I think Yassen is portrayed quite sympathetically compared to some of the bad guys in the books.

For a start, AH is practically inviting us to admire his body! There’s that stuff – mentioned more than once – about how Yassen is lithe and graceful, like a dancer. So either AH has fallen in love with his own character – it happens; think Matthew Graham / Gene Hunt, or Russell T. Davies / The Doctor – or he wants the reader to admire him, or at least think about him.

Because the alternative – that AH is showing us Alex admiring, or at least thinking about, Yassen’s body – would be a little unexpected given that Alex is a fourteen-year-old boy and most people still assume characters are not gay unless we’re told they are.

But hold on, the reader is a fourteen-year-old boy, too. Or at least, the main target audience is. So, again, why? Why the non-macho details about this character? It can only be to give a more complex view of the man; to show that he isn’t simply a bad guy. He has depth! He has hidden tragedy! He has issues!

All of which is very well, and can be seen as AH gently introducing his readers – many of whom, apparently, simply weren’t readers until Alex Rider came along – to the concept that characters can be complicated. That very few people are all bad, or all good.

Of course in general, the bad guys in Alex Rider books are all bad. And proud of it. While the good guys are all good. Edward Pleasure for example: not a bad bone in his body. Spends his time putting himself in danger in the public interest. And Alex himself, of course, puts himself in danger continually, only in his case it’s because MI6 exploit him shamelessly.

Time and time again they use the fact that Alex is a good guy through and through, that he cares about Jack and doesn’t want her thrown out of the country. That he cares about Tom and his classmates and doesn’t want them shot at again.

All of which leaves us just two characters, by and large, who are Officially Complex: Alan Blunt and Yassen Gregorovich. I’m discounting Mrs Jones here because most of the time she functions solely as a deputy. She knows herself that her hands are dirty, and she admits this to Alan Blunt, but her plans for the future, taking on Alan Blunt’s job, are all for good, and for improving the moral compass of the department.

So, Alan Blunt and Yassen Gregorovich. One, wholly on the side of the angels. The ultimate good guy, working tirelessly to protect the country against whatever threats may cross his desk. And he does it by strong-arming a fourteen-year-old into working for him time and again. He uses emotional blackmail: “we’ll send Jack away”; and straightforward threats: “you’ll have to leave your nice school and live in an institution”.

Whereas Yassen is the bad guy. He kills Ian Rider – although in the book we don’t learn this for quite a long time, if I remember rightly – which of course sets him squarely on the opposite side of the fence to both Alan Blunt and Alex himself. But then Yassen protects Alex, and decides not to kill him on the rooftop. “I have no instructions concerning you” really doesn’t mean “Consider it acceptable to leave alive an agent of MI6 who has seen you killing people and knows, close up, exactly what you look like”, but Yassen spares him anyway, and tells him to get out of the game now, while he still can.

All of which leads me to hope, even now, that AH has something planned for Yassen Gregorovich. We know he’s planning a book which will give us Yassen’s back-story, but we also know that feedback on school visits led him to change his mind about what to put into the final Alex Rider story. He had, I believe, originally intended to put Yassen’s back-story into that.

I have to say, I’m not entirely sure what AH was using for brains when he thought fourteen-year-old boys were going to go, “Ooh, back-story? The reason why some ‘lithe’ bloke on the other side turned bad? Please, give us his tragic background so we can understand!”

Er, not. The answer was probably more along the lines of “Thanks all the same, but perhaps you could leave the psycho-babble girl-stuff for, like, a girls’ book. And does Alex get a gun next time?”

I just can’t get away from the notion that Yassen isn’t there for the teenage boys. The more I think about it, the more I’m convinced he’s there for us. And I can’t imagine how AH plans to make Yassen’s back-story appeal to the Alex Rider target audience, so I live in hope that he will write it for us, the slashers female audience.

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(10 comments | Leave a comment)

[User Picture]
Date:April 17th, 2011 06:43 pm (UTC)
I haven't even read this whole post yet, I just had to post this macro I made about half an hour after finishing Scorpia Rising...because I am a child.

*goes to read the rest*

Edited at 2011-04-17 18:43 (UTC)
[User Picture]
Date:April 17th, 2011 06:55 pm (UTC)
Lol, I'd forgotten that bit! And thanks for the Damian-piccage, it's much appreciated...
[User Picture]
Date:April 17th, 2011 06:59 pm (UTC)
That bit made me put the book down and cackle hysterically. (I also considered making one reading "Julius wondered why prisoner number 6 kept touching him inappropriately" but never got round to it XD)

I'll tell you one of the things that strikes me, is that in the Rider books, a sure sign of a villain is a man that smokes. And Yassen doesn't, he even goes as far as to send a man off his boat becasue he can't stand the smell of it at one point.
[User Picture]
Date:April 17th, 2011 07:09 pm (UTC)

One thing I was wondering the other night is *do* we actually know that Yassen killed Ian? (I mean, he clearly did in the film, but - ) MI6 tell Alex he did it, and Alex accuses him of it and he doesn't deny it, and he was apparently in charge of Sayle's scheme so almost certainly ordered it done, but - given his history with John it makes less and less sense for him to kill him. Unless he wants Alex for himself haha.

"You killed Ian Rider," Alex said. "He was my uncle."
Yassen shrugged. "I kill a lot of people."

Is it possible he didn't know who the undercover spy was? He doesn't even seem sure he did it.

(Not that it really matters, only from the point of view of Alex being able to forgive him enough to shag him rotten). The thing that made me wonder is the unexplained flowers left on Ian's grave in Crocodile Tears. Which is an incredibly tenuous argument for suggesting he was in fact killed by The Gentleman.

Right, I'll stop tinhatting now hahaha.
[User Picture]
Date:April 17th, 2011 10:26 pm (UTC)
Some very interesting points here, which I hadn't picked up myself.

Villains smoke? I suppose now that it's not PC to smoke, it's presumably not allowed to make it stylish or sexy in children's books, so I guess it makes sense for mainly villains to do it. I'd forgotten the bit about Yassen not liking it. I really must get hold of all the books and read them thoroughly.

Yassen might not have killed Ian Rider? Something else that I missed. I'm guessing that's something AH has been holding in reserve and maybe hasn't even decided for himself yet. He does rather imply in his acknowledgements at the back of Scorpia Rising that Alex writes himself to a certain extent. ("...without any help from me, he's grown up.") Perhaps Yassen does too, and will be allowed to have his own say in the matter in the back-story book *taps foot impatiently*

"...[perhaps Ian] was in fact killed by The Gentleman."

I like your thinking here! I mean, why would you make the assassin who killed your hero's family intriguing, attractive and likeable, unless you want your hero to, er, like him and be attracted to him? And if that's the case, you really have to remove the "Yassen killed Ian Rider" card from play at some point, and having it emerge that he didn't do it after all would certainly work quite well!
[User Picture]
Date:April 18th, 2011 06:12 am (UTC)
Villains smoke?
Based on Horowitz's previous form it was the thing that made me call Ash as a bad guy from the beginning :D

A more sneaky proposal of course would be that Blunt had the (apparently rather ineffective) Ian taken out, entirely so he could plant Alex. But possibly that's going too far haha

[User Picture]
Date:April 18th, 2011 11:07 pm (UTC)
After Scorpia Rising it doesn't seem quite as unlikely as it did...
[User Picture]
Date:April 17th, 2011 11:22 pm (UTC)
Oh my god, he's Number Six (who doesn't have a name). Why didn't I spot that before?
[User Picture]
Date:April 18th, 2011 06:13 am (UTC)
He is. It made me LOL.
Date:September 24th, 2012 11:55 pm (UTC)
Alas, it seems to me that telling us that 'nobody knows' anything about the assassin in Scorpia Rising is just typical Horowitz colour. He's trying to tell us about the ambiguity, mysteries and anonymity surrounding spying, something he's always pressing home in his writing. (I could be wrong though) *hopes she is*
I'M SO GLAD that somebody agrees with me about Yassen being put there for the fangirls...or something. Something besides being there as a baddy to appeal to mostly-heterosexual 14-year-olds who probably aren't all that interested in sex yet, anyway. 'Alex could see every detail of the Russian's face: the chiseled lips, the almost feminine eyelashes.' Look me in the eye, Mr Horowitz, and tell me that you didn't put that there for the fangirls.
You're right, also, about Yassen being a less black-and-white character than some (don't forget that Alex is going a little dark by the end of the series, though). Something I really admired about AH in the earlier Alex books was that he was able to strew bits of subtlety for the readers that wanted subtlety, without holding up the action for readers that wanted action. It seems that that went out the window in later books. Julius Grief, for example; completely onesided character after his first chapter (I could rant a long and bitter rant about that).
Reading through some of the lower comments, I have a couple of suggestions to add to the 'did Yassen kill Ian' debate. First of all, I'd never doubted that he did, so that's a really interesting question you guys have raised. The first idea comes from a fic called 'Beneath the London Eye' which you can find on fanfiction. In it, Yassen explains to Jack that Ian was a daredevil who saw spying as a glamorous profession and in terms of good and evil, and liked the thrill, and that furthermore John was pulling strings in MI6 and Scorpia to keep Ian safe. Yassen could see that Ian was training Alex to follow in his footsteps (that much is solid canon) and guessed that when Alex was older Ian was going to clamour for him to be given some cool, hotshot mission, and get him killed. So Yassen killed Ian before Ian could drag Alex into spying, but it kind of backfired because Alex got dragged in by Ian's death.
The second theory is that he feels loyalty to John's family, but also feels that Ian has consciously chosen to run risks and is big and ugly enough to look after himself, so if Yassen kills him it's fair dos. Whereas Alex is young and blackmailed and helpless, so Yassen feels that he's got to cut him a little slack, where Ian was asking for it.
Blunt have Ian killed?
...that is EVIL.
I'm not convinced, though. Hadn't Ian almost cracked the Stormbreaker problem and was coming back to report? So that mission would have been completed without need of Alex if Ian hadn't been killed.
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