The overall rating of a review is different from a simple average of all individual ratings.
Share this review on
Merry Christmas everyone! Welcome to my ninth review on the CHERUB series. (Note: as I will be reviewing the entire CHERUB series, certain elements of the reviews may seem similar.However, for each book I review, all sections (other than ‘background of CHERUB’ and ‘author’) will be updated or rewritten.)
Previous Books (BEWARE: SPOILERS!)
James Adams is a senior CHERUB agent, and was awarded the ‘black’ shirt (along with his girlfriend Dana) when the two of them saved the life of a CHERUB mission controller in ‘The Fall’. The black T-shirt denotes an agent of the highest rank possible.James’ younger sister Lauren became one of the youngest ever ‘black shirts’, when she was promoted for saving the lives of multiple children during a siege in ‘Divine Madness’. She is regarded by many as an outstanding agent, and assumes the role of protagonist in ‘The Sleepwalker’.
Background of CHERUB
‘CHERUB’ is the name of a secret British spy organisation. Its existence is kept secret from the taxpayers who fund it, because it is a completely unethical and lawbreaking organisation. It uses children as spies, for a very simple reason: adults will trust ‘innocent’ children. After all, a child can’t possibly be an undercover secret agent, because that’s completely unethical and lawbreaking, right?
CHERUB employs only orphans, looking for those with an IQ in the top 1% of the population, and the potential to develop extremely strong muscles and bones. Obviously, these children are almost impossible to find – and when a candidate is selected, they then have to go through rigorous character aptitude tests. And whilst a baby (with older siblings) would be cared for lovingly on CHERUB campus, agents must reach an age of 10 years (not even 9 years and 364 days!) to participate in the 100-day basic training course, and 10 years 4 months to be sent on a mission.
The book opens in one of the most moving, tragic scenes in all of the CHERUB books. It shows a plane crash, from the eyes of an eleven year old. It is one of the most difficult chapters to read, as all the passengers wait slowly for their deaths.Lauren’s mission is centred on discovering the cause of the crash, as she follows up a lead from the ‘helpline’. The call is from a young Muslim boy, who suspects his father of involvement in the plane crash. Wonderfully for all bored readers, Muchamore doesn’t follow the general stereotype of ‘Muslim terrorists’ – in fact, he addresses this at the end, as McAfferty admits that he jumped to conclusions when a Muslim rang a helpline about a plane crash. The boy’s father’s involvement is much more subtle than that.
There is a second dimension to the boy’s story – he and his mother are being domestically abused by the father. Lauren’s mission is to befriend him, and often CHERUB agents form false alliances for the sake of the mission. However, Lauren starts to sympathise with him, and genuinely wants to help him.
I thought the structure of the book was excellent. Chapters are relatively short – a pet-hate of mine is a chapter that goes on for long enough to cover many different sub-plots, and so should really have been split into many chapters. The writer is careful not to write too much in any particular section of the book, so that you can get through it quite quickly.
Another of my pet-hates is the phrase ‘I couldn’t put it down’. However, I must say that every book in the CHERUB series is so well structured that you will be hard-pressed to find a point to stop reading. The shorter chapters have a bizarre effect, almost making you feel like you’ve read less than you really have.
Lauren is the protagonist of this book, despite the fact that her brother James has led the series so far. Her skills as an agent are tested, as she breaks the golden rule: “never get emotionally involved with someone on a mission”. It is also interesting to see how she carries out the mission with Jake Parker, a boy she doesn’t get along with at all. However, the two must put their differences aside for the good of the mission.Dr. McAfferty makes a return, for the first time since his retirement in the 6th book. The young boy who the reader saw the crash through the eyes of was actually McAfferty’s grandson, and McAfferty becomes ‘mission controller’ for a one-off occasion. He is determined to find out the cause of the death of his wife, daughter-in-law, and two grandchildren. There is also the fact that McAfferty feels very lonely, and his old CHERUB colleagues are the only people he has left who understand his secret past as CHERUB’s spymaster.
The Muslim family are portrayed with excellent skill, as Muchamore shows all the stereotypes others apply to them. The father is genuinely a nasty piece of work, eventually murdering his wife and hiding her secretly from the child. He is nice to the child for a day or so after this, in order to redeem his sense of guilt, and then returns to abusing him whenever he is ‘disobeyed’.
However, the boy is simply emotionally strained. He has been bullied all of his life, simply because he is Muslim. He behaves badly at school and is expelled from more than one institution, but his tormenters are never caught, unjustly. His mother is kind, although she takes the father’s side on many an occasion, for fear of being beaten.
In order to give the reader a break from the plane crashes, domestic violence scenes, and racial abuse, James Adams spends the entire book on campus, getting up to his usual light-hearted exploits. He is once more a joy to read about, amusing though sometimes crazy, and a very real, believable character.
The World of CHERUB
Muchamore creates a unique environment on CHERUB campus. He considers everything from buildings to uniform, and often the characters spend half of the novel on-campus.CHERUB campus features a wide range of buildings, the purposes of which range from education, to martial arts training, to mission control. Given that James spends the entire book on campus (or on work experience), we get to learn a lot more about campus’ schooling system, as well as how they keep the children occupied in their spare time. For example, James and a team of petrol-stained boys convert an old golf buggy into a hot-wheeled, supersonic racing machine – a somewhat futile event given that the race occurs in the chapters preceding and succeeding the chapter about the plane crash. That was a very effective way for Muchamore to convey the tragedy of the crash.
T-shirts were a very interesting way of creating ranks within CHERUB. Orange T-shirts are worn by all visitors, whether they are aged four, or aged forty. Under-10s (and all over-10s yet to pass basic training) wear red shirts, and those in basic training wear blue. Once you are a qualified agent, you get a grey T-shirt. From here it gets interesting, as the next T-shirts are used as promotions. Navy is for an outstanding performance on a mission, and black is the ultimate reward for a high-class, consistent agent.
The staff (white T-shirts) ranges from those who are understanding and kind-hearted, to those who are unjust and sadistic (seriously!). They all have one thing in common: discipline. The basic training instructors are by far the most colourful characters, and throughout the series there are some interesting exercises which they supervise.
Perhaps my favourite parts of the CHERUB books are the training exercises. In this episode, the training exercise pits all of the black shirts against instructors, retired (but in excellent shape) cherubs, and an elite division of red shirts – some of them marksmen despite being only 9 years old. And to make it even more unbalanced, the black shirts were dragged unprepared from their beds in the middle of the night, whilst the other team were not only prepared, but given night vision goggles, assault rifles loaded with compressed paint, quad bikes, radio contact, body armour... Seeing Lauren, James and Dana attempt to outwit them, merely to achieve the exercise’s simple objective of ‘returning to your bed’ is extremely entertaining.
Muchamore doesn’t control tension with the style of a classic writer, but he does a fairly good job. I would give him a 4/5 rating in terms of skill – he uses a wide vocabulary and structures the plot well, as well as keeping the ‘tension-o-meter’ at a varying rate, so that you can take a break from the suspense, or be lulled into a false sense of security.In terms of revealing information, Muchamore does a very good job. He is able to keep the reader hooked through their desire to find out what happens next, but is careful not to reveal too much. This keeps the reader interested in the character’s development throughout the entire series.
This book rivals ‘Man vs. Beast’, in terms of graphic violence. The domestic abuse scenes are very painful to read about, and Muchamore doesn’t hold back when describing the injuries the father inflicts on his wife and son. Scenes of racist bullying and of course the plane passengers’ horrible wait for death confirm that this book is definitely not suitable for younger readers.
Once the deep themes are accepted, this book is an excellent book for teenagers. Funny yet chilling, with tense scenes, and scenes that allow the reader to relax. Many teen boys resume ‘fiction reading’ when they discover CHERUB – it is a series which fits a gap in the market. Perhaps this is simply because they can relate to the characters – all of which have their flaws – or perhaps it is the storylines which are both complex, and incredibly easy to understand, if that were possible. Any boy from the age of 13 to 17 should try the books out.