After twelve books about James Adams and a further four covering the world war two founding of CHERUB, it would be easy to accuse this series of becoming stagnant. It is to Muchamore's credit therefore that every book has shared the same high level of excitement, fast pace and intricate plotting. At the same time, the reader has watched James Adams go from twelve-year-old recruit to adult secret agent; this journey from childhood is as satisfying to read as that of Artemis Fowl, say, or Valkyrie Cain.
I know many readers didn't like Shadow Wave, and it's easy to see where they're coming from. James meeting his father is a mere footnote. The mission isn't exactly a fitting end to James' career. It's Kyle's mission, with James as his backup. This is the reason I actually liked it, as Kyle was always my favourite character. I loved the flashback sequence, and the temper tantrum from a thirteen-year-old James over Arsenal's defeat was among Muchamore's more hilarious writing:
'He laughed even more as he heard James slamming his door, and crashing around in his room, slagging off Mo, Meryl and reserving his most special contempt for Cristiano Ronaldo.'
Of course, Muchamore is an obsessive Arsenal fan, so it's good to know he can basically laugh at himself!
It was also good to see retired, and almost-retired agents coming up with their own mission instead of something that's been meticulously examined by the CHERUB ethics committee. It made a nice twist: using their training for their own ends...
Even so, were I being a sceptic, I could ask, what next? How long can Muchamore continue with the franchise, and indeed, how?
Well; by introducing a brand new recruit, naturally, and beginning all over again with his story. People's Republic was released in summer 2011, and feels like a reboot of the series. Ryan Sharma is quite different a character to James, possessing a touching uncertainty about his abilities and a sweet concern for other people which James often lacked. He still possesses the charisma needed to retain a reader's interest through (why not?) twelve books chartering his career. I prefer him already.
There's appeal for Muchamore's young female readers too in Ning, whose escape from China to England is both exciting and tragic, with an ultimate feel-good happy ending. I love that Muchamore never actually intended to write strong female characters, wanting instead something for the boys to bounce off, but he's ended up doing just that. I'm not sure how many thirteen-year-olds could make this illegal, highly dangerous journey that Ning manages, especially when James was having tantrums over football at this age, and in making the character female, it shows that Muchamore seems to be writing for girls as well as boys now.
There's already the well-developed secondary characters he writes so well, who I look forward to learning more about. Special mention goes to Doris, who is already favourite character to several people on a certain Internet forum:
'"Why have you still got the bloody yucca plant?" Ryan asked.
"I'll find a new pot for it when we get back to campus," Alfie explained. "I'm thinking of calling it Doris."'
One thing I'd like to mention: the front cover. It shows an orange/red shirt jumping away from what looks like an explosion, which instantly asks many questions. A red shirt, involved in a mission? How is this happening?! Then at the end of the book you realise that it is, in fact, a paint balling session, on campus. Oh.
(I'm being snarky. It was a lovely scene, showing Ning being accepted by her new friends in CHERUB, and by extension, her new life. It reminded me of the end of Class A, where James realises that CHERUB is his home; where he belongs. It also has the funniest moment of the book:
'"Are we playing or yapping?" Alfie asked. "Doris is expecting me back by ten."')
A more serious niggle is the sheer amount of typos, mistakes and inconsistencies. There's at least two per chapter, which makes me wonder, in the rush for a speedy publication, was this book copy edited at all? Or, y'know, proof read? All of this points to the fact that Hodder clearly need to hire me for this role...
(At least they show that my copy is a first edition. And it's signed. And dedicated. Snigger.)
People's Republic is the first in a trilogy. I'm highly excited about Guardian Angel, which is due out this summer. I also wonder if Muchamore has the ending for book three written out on scrap notepaper...