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Man Vs Beast is book 6 in Robert Muchamore's Cherub series. As I have reviewed all the previous books I will keep the description of the series as a whole to an absolute minimum. In short, CHERUB books feature children recruited from children's homes who act as intelligence agents, able to go where adults can not for one simple reason - no one suspects a child of being an undercover agent. Of course the premise is far fetched, but not nearly so far fetched as many other popular books both for young adults and adults in general. There are no top secret gadgets, no one man armies or any other really over the top ploys. Beyond the initial impossibility of the British government placing children in such dangerous situations, the rest of the story is quite plausible and the characters are extremely well developed and quite believable.
I read Robert Muchamore's Henderson's Boys books prior to starting on his CHERUB line. One of the factors that I liked best about this author is that he has a talent for creating "enemies" with some redeeming qualities. Very rarely does he use the completely evil villain. Most of heroes have flaws and his villains have virtues, which makes for much more realistic reading. This book also has these qualities - sometimes it is hard to know who to root for. Animal testing is a deeply emotive subject but I think the author has done a remarkably good job in portraying the motives of members on both sides.
James Adams, age 14, is the main character in all the books in this series. He is joined in this book by his sister Lauren, who will play a very major role and his best friend Kyle, as well as Mission controller Zara. The team are paired up with a recently paroled animal rights activist Ryan Quinn ( conveniently a very Irish terrorist - although not of the typical political persuasion) who has agreed to help the intelligence services infiltrate and root out a more violent breakaway grouping - the Animal Freedom Militia. Ryan is completely devoted to stopping animal suffering - but does not agree with violence towards humans to achieve these goals and feels the more violent groups are doing his cause more harm than good.
This book draws a lot of attention to the horrific suffering of animals, both in the meat industry, and in testing. I honestly don't know how well the author researched his facts, but if true some of the statistics are truly shocking. In all honesty this book is enough to make anyone think twice before biting into a chicken sandwich, but the most shocking allegation was that a large number of animals are subjected to horrific tests simply to provide evidence for burgeoning lawsuit industry. Personally - I have mixed feelings on animal testing - but if it is to be allowed I feel that only tests which have a strong medical need such as cancer research should be allowed - and in these cases animal welfare needs to be much more tightly regulated. I have tried to find statistics on this myself but so far have only been able to come with statistics that 80% of animal testing is for medical purposes - that still leaves a lot of animals suffering who should not be - even if we accept that all of the 80% claimed for medical purposes really are medically necessary. I realise Psychology tests would fall under this category as well - and I feel most of these are cruel and unnecessary. But even as this book takes a real dig at animal exploitation, it shows the human side of research industry as well.
The book begins with a stressed single mother desperately trying to pay a mortgage and support her two children without going on the dole after her husband decided family responsibilities weren't his thing. She has taken a job she despises cleaning cages a the animal research facility because she seems to lack any marketable skills that would land her a job that would pay enough to keep her children in their family home, and the testing facility pays "danger pay" - giving her enough money to pay the mortgage and supply the children's basic needs. She is attacked on her way to work and her teenage son is assaulted as well when he tries to come to her aid. They leave with a threat to kill her the next time as her children desperately call an ambulance. The Animal Freedom Militia claims credit. This is not their first violent attack, and authorities are certain it will not be the last.
Mission controller Zara poses as the new girlfriend to animal rights activist Ryan Quinn. The CHERUB agents are passed off as her children by a previous marriage, so the group sets up house together as happy family. Of course families aren't always happy and this mission starts off with some serious conflict between Lauren and James as she has rather shamelessly used him in a scheme of her own earlier, and to make matters worse - left a written plan including details that he was so thick he would be easily manipulated. While the brother and sister are on tense footing, the pseudo siblings have difficulties as well. Kyle and James are best friends, and James has been able to come to terms with the fact that his best mate is gay - but when Kyle gets involved in an actual relationship with another boy some prejudice does come out. It is mild - and understandable in a way. Teenage boys do tend to be insecure about things like this, but it does add further strain to the household. Meanwhile, Lauren, who has never had a real father figure is developing a real attachment for Ryan and happily gets involved in some illegal activities with him in regards to animal welfare. The family must pose as Vegans for this mission - but for Lauren it becomes more than poses as she ponders the ethical aspects of the meat industry.
The agents are left in a situation where there is not always a clear right and wrong. They do oppose the extremely violent methods of the ALM, but they can't help but feel something for the moral issues involved and these affect Lauren very deeply. This really brings the idea of how far a protester has the right to go into question. Real life animal activists describe a right to "extensional self defense". Most people accept the right to use violence in extreme issues of self defense. I'm sure nearly everyone would agree a woman has a right to fight off a would be rapist, and a man has a right to defend himself from a beating by mugger. In most cases we would extend the right of defending an innocent to a passer by - surely a man has a right to intervene to stop another man committing rape - beating a child etc.... The most extreme animal rights groups, such as the Animal Liberation Front ( whom I strongly suspect Muchamore modelled his fictional group after), believe this right extends to protecting animals as well. The question is - is terrorism ever justified? Can two wrongs make a right? Do you have a right to break the law if the law in unjust? And where do you draw the line? One can easily support Ryan Quinn's style of lawbreaking, but actual terrorism is a different matter in my book.
I have enjoyed all of Muchamore's books but this really ranks up there as one of the best. The books are meant to appeal to teenage boys, and there is plenty of action, some wanton destruction, and a fast moving plot to suit most boys. But there is also so much more to the story as whole. The characters are exceptionally well developed and very realistic. Many of the problems they face are issues ordinary children have to deal with, and they react very much as ordinary children in the same circumstances would be expected to. There is violence, limited foul language, some hinting at sexual situations, but I believe almost all teens are familiar with these issues anyway. I think this series really shows positive ways of dealing with realistic teenage dilemmas. No one is perfect in these books, the heroes have flaws just as everyone else does. They make mistakes,and sometimes do some pretty thoughtless things to each other - but this just makes them more realistic. People make mistakes. It isn't the end of the world -they learn and grow from them. Surely, this a good thing to teach children. This is one of the books in this series where I really feel you need to have read the previous books to get the full impact of the events on each character. There are also some very strong ethical issues brought up in this book that will give adults pause for thought as well.
This book has a wide fan base a great many positive reviews. However there are some who feel it's content is completely unsuitable for young adults. The book does clearly state "Not Suitable for Younger Readers", and it does contain a very limited amount of strong language. There is violence, but I think that is to be expected of a book with a man with a woolly face on the cover and undercover agents. I really have not found anything at all to justify calls for this to be removed from school book shelves, and would be happy enough for my 7 year old to read this particular book except for the fact that it would almost certainly lead to him turning vegetarian on the spot. I would also be put in the awkward position of being asked if such horrible things really happened - and I'd just as soon he not have to know that yet. I do feel the animal suffering in this book would deeply upset my son.
I do find some of the books in this series a bit too much for such a young child, so am keeping this series until he older - but they are not meant for young children. The objections to this book seem to all come from the USA and in all honesty I feel this is most likely due to Kyle's relationship. There are absolutely no graphic descriptions and from all appearances his relationship has not progressed beyond making out. I honestly can not find anything to take offence at here, but perhaps I am not as talented as taking offence as some readers. There is no mention of the animal suffering depicted in this book, which would be my greatest concern in giving to a very young child. If you find any use of swear words, violence, or the thought of anyone being in love with a member of the same sex inappropriate reading material - then you should not buy this book - but you may have extreme difficulty in finding anything that teenagers actually want to read. Also - I would warn parents that young children are apt to be upset by the descriptions of animal suffering - and if you want your child to continue eating the Sunday roast with the rest of the family - you may want to carefully consider whether or not to buy this book. I do feel some children will be very upset by some portions of this book - and for this reason only I would recommend this book only to ages 12+.
Man vs. Beast, book number six by Robert Muchamore in the CHERUB series. James and his sister Lauren are sent on a mission about animals. At the start they meet a strange man called Ryan, he tells them about what they need to do and what the mission will include. When they get there they find that there is a different terrorist group who are hurting or even killing people to help the animals. Their jobs are to infiltrate this group of people and bring down the organisation. The only problem is that they have guns.
I was really thrilled to see that Robert had upped his game in this book because I was beginning to have some doubt on his writing. But sure enough he's done it again and has written an excellent book. This one really is a thriller and it is so fun to read!!
If you like the CHERUB series before just wait until you read this book, you'll love them even more!!! I can't wait for the next book to come out!