The International Writers Magazine: Review

Man Vs Beast – Robert Muchamore
Hodder Children’s Books, 2006
ISBN 0 340 91169 7
Rosie Wheatcroft

an Vs Beast is Robert Muchamore’s sixth instalment in the hugely successful CHERUB series of children’s novels. Muchamore, a private investigator before becoming a children’s author, was inspired to start his CHERUB series by his nephew’s insistence that there was nothing for children to read. Muchamore and his award winning six novel series appear to be filling that gap.

CHERUB is a branch of British Intelligence- its agents consist of 300 orphaned ten to seventeen year olds all living on the CHERUB campus; a secret facility hidden in the English countryside. These CHERUB agents undertake top-secret missions dished out by MI5, under the premise that ‘Adults never suspect that children are spying on them’. In Man Vs Beast we see 14 year old James, his younger sister Lauren, and 16 year old Kyle infiltrate a gang of violent animal rights extremists known as the Animal Freedom Militia (AFM), whilst overcoming the inevitable growing pains suffered by pubescent, orphaned secret agents.
Most of the action happens in the last quarter of this 300-page novel, culminating in the gunpoint kidnap of a celebrity chef on live TV. CHERUB agents James and Kyle successfully infiltrate, and subsequently disband, AFM offshoot extremist group Animal Freedom Army (AMA), with plenty of gratuitous violence and a car chase or two.

As a novel, the plot has an entertainingly fast pace, and the prose is no more frustratingly over-explanatory and clumsy than that of Dan Brown. Which is pretty good going for a children’s novel, I’d say. Also, the Hogwarts format of children away from home, boarding at a school undertaking a secret education, is extremely likeable and creates an affection for the children as they struggle with their demanding lives.
Muchamore, while keen to fill the apparent gap in the children’s novel market, seems intent on distancing himself from the children’s novel mode; with his over zealous violence and unnecessary underage gay sex of one of the lead characters. Whilst it is necessary for children’s literature to modernise and accommodate popular culture, I find that in this particular novel Muchamore is shocking for shockings’ sake.

I feel if the readership is old enough to understand the adult themes in this book, then surely there is a place for moral or philosophical substance? As entertaining as gratuitous violence is, it is perhaps the downfall of this novel, which only fleetingly attempts to discuss the morality and significance of its more important themes, such as animal testing and non-violent protest.

Man Vs Beast is a good example of modern, stylish children’s literature, with a page-turning plot and likeable characters. It is a shame that despite such adult themes and emotive issues, there is no attempt at a deeper view of these orphaned children; no moral code or common value system with which to promote to its impressionable young audience.
© Rosie Wheatcroft Oct 18th 2006

Rosie studies Creative Writing at the University of Portsmouth

See alt review of Man V Beast here

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