The Recruit – CHERUB #1

the-recruit[1]

Author: Robert Muchamore

Publication: Simon Pulse, 2005

Pages: 352

Overall Rating:  bth_35_zps7a173504[1]                      

Rating for Action: bth_25_zps13f4f4eb[1]

Quantity of Action:  bth_25_zps13f4f4eb[1]

Age Category:  13+

Brief Summary: When James Adams’ mother dies from an overdose of painkillers and alcohol, he’s separated from his sister and sent to live in a group home.  James quickly finds himself in trouble when he decides to hang out with the wrong group of kids.  They trick him into robbing a liqueur store and James gets busted.  He knows he’s in trouble and that he’s headed for juvie if he doesn’t clean up his act.

What James doesn’t know is that his roommate, Kyle, is in fact a scout for a secret branch of British Intelligence called CHERUB that trains children to work as spies.   James is drugged and taken to CHERUB headquarters in the dead of night, where they make a recruitment offer he can’t refuse.

Soon James is living in new quarters on the CHERUB campus along with hundreds of other kids, all of whom are either training to be spies or already going out on missions.  At first it all seems like fun.  James makes some friends and tags along on a mission.  His biggest challenge is learning to swim.

Then he starts his training course – three months of hell.  The courses in karate, weapons and explosives, espionage techniques and Russian aren’t so bad.  It’s everything else that sucks.  James and his companions are pushed to their physical limits, frozen, half starved, run through endless forced marches and exercise drills.  Just surviving is the biggest challenge of all.  And when it’s finally over, James is sent out on his first real mission.

Age of Main Character: 12

What I Liked the Most: The training course.  It was intense, and Muchamore does a great job of balancing the physical horrors of training with the relationships between James and the other kids.  We watch as the stress and strain of the course almost breaks them apart before finally, and in the most difficult of circumstances, bringing them firmly back together.  That said I wasn’t especially impressed with the final exam the kids had to pass in order to complete the course.  It didn’t seem to live up to what they’d been through in terms of stress and difficulty.

Muchamore also does a great job setting out what life is like for the kids in CHERUB, making it possible to really imagine what it might be like to go to a school for spies.

What I Liked the Least: Two things.  First, the book lacks emotional depth.  All of the kids in CHERUB, including James, are orphans or wards of the state.  They all got there because they lost their families.  But none of them seem to have suffered from that.  There are only one or two brief moments in the book where James even sheds a tear over the loss of his mother.  We don’t know why any of the other kids are there, and none of them seem to be the least bit angry or depressed.  They have fun, joke around, act like normal teens living normal lives – even though they’re all orphans living in a school for spies.  At one point, James’ roommate, Kyle, tells him a story about what happened to his parents.  Then, later in the book, he confesses that his story was a complete fabrication and actually laughs about it.  The problem?  He clearly did lose his parents or he wouldn’t be there.  And if he had lost his parents there’s no way he could have lied and joked about it like that.

Second, I didn’t really like James.  He’s too obnoxious and self-centered.  He tends to see everything he’s doing as a game.  In the end, when it gets serious – both in training and on his first mission – he pulls it together and steps up to the plate.  But for the rest of the book he’s often too lazy and self-centered to really like.

How Good was the Action?  Variable.  There’s one thing you need to understand about CHERUB.  The kids here are not like Alex Rider or James Bond.  They’re primarily sent out on information gathering missions.  That doesn’t mean they don’t get into tight spots and have to fight their way out – as happens in later books in the series – but the books aren’t primarily about chases and explosions.  They’re about solving a case.

This first book is focused on how James got to CHERUB and how he got trained.  The mission itself is brief – though still fun to read.  James does almost die, but not as the result of fight.  That said, there are some periods of action, and the training course provides much of it as James and his fellow students have to struggle to survive under horrific circumstances.

How Engaging was the Story?  This is not an emotionally charged book.  It’s basically a fun, light read.  And taken at that level, it’s not bad.  Muchamore does do an excellent job of drawing us into the relationships between James and his friends at CHERUB.  And even though he skips over the sorrow and loss that all of them must be feeling, he does a good job of establishing each of them as real and believable characters.

The book is somewhat hobbled by being the first in the series.  It’s basically broken into three parts: recruitment, training, and mission; so none of the three sections get as much time and attention as they deserve.  That said, I still found myself caring about James.  Even though I didn’t always like him, I definitely wanted him to succeed.  I wanted him to fit in at CHERUB, survive the training course, and succeed in his first mission.

Overall Assessment:  This wasn’t a great book, but it was still a fun read.  And it’s essential reading if you want to move further into the CHERUB series and read about James’s other missions, each of which seem to get progressively more action-packed.  In my opinion, the training course alone makes this book a worthwhile read.

Profanity: Some, though most of it is British profanity.

Sex: Yes.  While out on mission James does find time to make out with a local girl.  So there is some kissing and fooling around.  Also, during training there’s a scene where James and a girl named Kerry are forced to spend the night together in nothing but their underwear.  However, there’s nothing remotely romantic or sexual about the scene.

Violence:  Nothing over the top.  James gets in a few fist fights, and there’s some minor violence during the full contact sparring that’s part of their karate training.  But there’s certainly nothing gory or extreme.

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