International Writers Magazine: Review
Vs Beast Robert Muchamore
Hodder Childrens Books, 2006
ISBN 0 340 91169 7
Vs Beast is Robert Muchamores sixth instalment in the hugely
successful CHERUB series of childrens novels. Muchamore,
a private investigator before becoming a childrens author,
was inspired to start his CHERUB series by his nephews 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 childrens novel, Id
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
Muchamore, while keen to fill the apparent gap in the childrens
novel market, seems intent on distancing himself from the childrens
novel mode; with his over zealous violence and unnecessary underage
gay sex of one of the lead characters. Whilst it is necessary for childrens
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 childrens 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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