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The International Writers Magazine: Young Fiction:

The General by Robert Muchamore
Publisher: Hodders
ISBN: 978-0340931844
Review by Dan Crossen

When I first picked up Robert Muchamore’s ‘The General’, the latest book in his ‘Cherub’ series, I was expecting a feel-good story in which every character has no flaws and is constantly spouting the difference between right and wrong and the importance of morality. However I was pleasantly surprised when it turned out to be a true to life story that could almost be real.

‘Cherub’ is a government organisation that takes in kids who have lost their parents and over many years turns them into a highly trained soldier, ready to carry undercover missions for the good of the country using the advantage of being a child to lull their targets into a false sense of security. We begin the book by following James Adams into his mission against ‘SAG’ (the Street Action Group), a group they believe will soon be turning into a terrorist organisation, as they proceed to trash the streets of London in an anarchy fuelled riot with hundreds of protestors. In many other books meant for children we’d be reading a ten page long speech about how vandalising is wrong and even though the main character is under cover, he still can’t bring himself to do it, but the kids here are rough around the edges and James Adams unhesitatingly contributes his share of the carnage and is happy to do so. Even though he is a deadly soldier the inescapable fact is that he is still a kid, and would still want to act like one, a feat pulled off marvellously by all the kids in ‘Cherub’.

I have seen this series of books compared with the ‘Alex Rider’ series many times but the two are so very different, with the only comparative theme being that kids are soldiers. Alex Rider seems like a kid who was brought up in a prim and proper way, being taught good manners, not to swear, not to steal and so on, and so the excitement of being a kid can be lost at points and sadly we lose this element of the story due to censorship. But in ‘The General’ it’s a no holds barred free for all on language and actions, even going so far as to say ‘Not suitable for younger readers’ on the back cover. But if the kids that want to read this are anything like the ones in Cherub, then a simple sign on the back isn’t going to stop them getting to this book.

One thing I was disappointed with was the length of the book. Even though it is meant for kids, most of which have short attention spans, each individual story in the book seems a bit short lived, especially the main storyline in which the Cherub kids help to stage a war game in the USA. As brilliant as many of the subtle and not so subtle satires about the American government are, there can always be more, and this section of the story feels like it is snatched away from you before you really get a chance to engage with it.

This action packed story manages to keep surprising as each page is turned, using not only great writing but great characters and twists to keep you interested, and unlike some stories similar to it, it doesn’t use the fact that kids are soldiers as some kind of crutch to keep you hooked. I would recommend this book to anyone, regardless of their age, as it will definitely bring back a few memories if you are a bit of an older reader, and most likely some recent ones if you are a bit younger.

© Dan Crossen November 2008
dancrossen1 at
Dan is studying Creative Writing at the University of Portsmouth

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