Sunday, 5 August 2012
The Recruit, by Robert Muchamore
The Recruit is the first book in Robert Muchamore’s massive ‘CHERUB’ series. Until I started working in the teen and children’s department at Waterstones it wasn’t a series I had paid much attention to, but in recent weeks a great number of quite grown up people - handsome boys in particular - have waxed lyrical about the wonders of Muchamore, so I felt it was something I really ought to try - especially if I want to call myself a children’s bookseller. This turns out to have been a very wise decision (I am now struggling to resist the urge to go and buy the entire series - another 19 books, if I count the two spin-off series as well).
CHERUB stands for... Well, actually no-one knows what CHERUB stands for (though I’ve been reliably told this is revealed in the spin-off, Henderson’s Boys). The premise is simple: MI5 for kids. Not Anthony Horowitz / Alex Rider style - lone teenager becomes spy - but an entire branch of the British Intelligence Agency consisting of children. Why? Well, because no-one suspects kids, right? Kids are just around, doing what kids do, they’re not going to be bugging the house or watching you to gather intelligence. Kids are background. Kids are the perfect cover.
In The Recruit we meet James. Inner city kid, no dad to speak of, just him, his mum, and his little sister. He gets by, he’s smart but doesn’t apply himself, he doesn’t seek out trouble, but it usually manages to find him nevertheless. I found the start of the book a little bit stilted, the writing a little bit stiff, but then events take over and the story kicks up a gear. And then another gear. And then another gear. Invited to take the CHERUB entrance test, will James pass? Is he up to the physical and mental challenges ahead? Muchamore has written a story with the perfect balance of action and characterisation; he raises a number of moral issues in a subtle manner, draws the reader into the events that ensue, and then rounds things up nicely at the end. I couldn’t ask for more.
On the back of the book is printed a ‘not suitable for younger readers’ warning. Interestingly for a title that is categorised as teenage fiction, though, is the fact that the main character, James, is only twelve. Honestly, I don’t think it would be a problem for the younger range of teenagers to read this book - they might not pick up on the subtleties, but there wasn’t anything drastically gruesome or harrowing. It is perhaps the concepts that could be considered inappropriate for younger readers, but I can’t imagine too many thirteen year olds having a massive problem with them.