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Over the last year I have read quite a few books by Robert Muchamore - 19 in fact. All of these books are labeled as not suitable for younger readers - and some have been banned from school libraries. I am not in favour of banning any of the books - but I did feel that at age 7 some of the topics, such as human trafficking and the sex trade might be a bit too too much for my son. More importantly, I didn't think these topics would hold his interest, and I think as a whole the series would best suit a child just a little bit older. When they came out with a graphic novel from the CHERUB series I felt it might be just the thing for a slightly younger audience, and picked up a copy for my son. Needless to say - I did read the book first - although I knew the first book in the series was pretty tame anyway. For the most part - I read my sons books first, not so much as an act of censorship - but so that I can at least be aware of any topics raised by the story and discuss them with him.
This book is also labeled "NOT SUITABLE FOR YOUNGER READERS". I would disagree with this - in fact I feel this book would best suit younger readers. There is violence in this book - mostly in the form of fist fights and a fairly brutal karate match. There is absolutely nothing in this book that would concern me if my four year old wanted to listen to it. I can't see children much younger than 7 being really interested in the book - but I honestly do not see anything to justify the label. That said - my son found the label and I believe it did make him more interested in reading the books - so by all means tell the children that they should not read this book.
For those of you who are familiar with the Muchamore's original book "The Recruit", this follows the same story line, but in a very condensed format. There are some missing sections, and you don't quite get the same feeling of camaraderie - this doesn't have quite the same depth as Muchamore's version.
The Cherub books are apt to appeal to many of the same readers as Alex Rider. Both have the premise of children being used by MI6 as undercover agents, but while Alex Rider is the only child agent, CHERUB has a whole school of misfit children gathered from care homes and trained as spies - although in many cases I feel they work more as undercover police agents than espionage agents. This does stretch the limits of credibility even more - to imagine an entire industry devoted to training juvenile agents, but it also gives the books a completely different scope. They deal with friendships, relationships and the trials and tribulations of growing up. They also tackle complex ethical and moral issues in what I consider a very positive manner, but some of this is lost in this adaptation. This becomes more of a simple spy book, packed with action and adventure, but lacking some of the philosophical elements.
My son of course, has not read the original book, so has nothing to compare this too. He did enjoy this book, and he asked if we could buy book 2 in this series ( so far there isn't one). The fights and karate especially appealed to him, but he thought all the training exercises looked great fun. One illustration shows a very dangerous looking training exercise for heights which he thought looked brilliant, running along a narrow walkway with no hand rails thirty feet off the ground and leaping over gaps. In all honesty - I could see him doing that - he has the balance of a cat and has always loved heights. I am sure every child who has ever read these books wished there really was a school like CHERUB so there is a bit of vicarious excitement in this book. This book does have quite the character or story development of the original, but it is a fun book and ideally sited to keep younger boys interested. I can not see adults really wanting to read this book though, and I don't think it will engage teenagers in the way the original series did. I would recommend this book for ages 7- 11.
Of course this is a graphic novel - so no review would be complete without mentioning the art work, and I'm afraid the artwork is what originally put me off buying this book. You can see a preview on Amazon, and the as far as I am concerned describing the inks as poor is a compliment to them. Had they been better - I would have bought this the day it came out. As it stands I only bought this because finding good books for my son to read has become difficult and he is very much into graphic novels at the moment. If anything, after buying the book, I am even less impressed by the illustrations. Some are poor - others are awful. In terms of quality of the artwork - this is without a doubt the worst graphic novel I have seen. The characters can change appearance from one illustration to the next and some of the expressions are terrible. Some look as if the character should be seated on the loo for an advert for a constipation remedy - others look barely human. Many remind me of pictures I have seen where artists quickly whipped out a rough sketch to show the general idea - which were never intended as part of the book.
Sadly I believe the illustrations will kill this series. This is just the type of book to get many boys with no interest in reading involved, and graphic novels are a wonderful way to keep reading easy and fun for very young children or struggling readers. But graphic novels do cost considerably more than ordinary paperbacks - and in this case you have lost a lot of the story. I expect the illustrations to make up for that and feel the artwork is usually what makes paying the extra money worthwhile. I actually feel guilty being honest about this artwork. I would hate for the artist to read this and feel terrible. But I can not for the life of me imagine what an editor was thinking to allow these illustrations to reach print.
I am still giving this book 4 stars. After all my son did really enjoy it, despite showing me the illustrations and commenting on the fact that they were not very good. He enjoyed the story and wants to read more from the same author. As bad as the illustrations are - if another book were available with equally bad illustrations - I would still buy it so I can't rate it down too harshly. As far as losing part of the story in the adaptation - even with part of the story missing this book is still better than most books for this age group - especially for boys who like action and adventure rather than myth and magic.