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Before I start this review, it is impossible to say anything about this book without giving some slight spoiler in regards to the previous book. As soon as I mention character names and the setting - it will become obvious that something has happened or failed to happen in the previous book. I knew this before reading the series, as I had already read a bit about the books, but if you want to start reading the first book with every surprise intact - you would be best advised not to read anything at all about the second. Even the Amazon blurb will give this much away. So you have been warned if you want complete surprises in this series - skip this review. I will be as careful as possible with spoilers, but this next bit is something I can not work around.
In 'The Escape', the plan had been to get the children and the stolen plans across the channel to Britain as quickly as possible. As this book features all four of the main characters from the last book, as well as two new ones, and takes place in occupied France - it becomes obvious that for some reason or another they did not reach Britain. I won't go into any more detail on that. I do feel that adults could enjoy this book every bit as much as children, and I wouldn't want anyone spoiling the book for me before I read it.
This book centers around the three children from the previous book. Marc and Paul are each 12 while Rosie is 13. In addition a 15 year old American boy ends up joining the group, and a rather beautiful young woman, Maxine. British Agent, Charles Henderson is the main adult in this book, and while he is a likable character, he does take a back seat to the children. Through a series of unusual incidents in the first book he has ended up with little choice but to use a child to help him carry out operations, but he has also shown real care and concern for the orphaned Marc, and for the first time in his life, given him a sense of family, and security.
Crossing the channel has now become much to difficult. The plan is to escape into neutral Spain with the children, but even this is a dodgy operation. Meanwhile, they are staying at the British Consulate building. Maxine is the last remaining employee, but rather than close the consulate as ordered, she has left it open as an asylum for homeless children separated from their families. When Henderson hears the news of the British bombing of the French fleet though, he knows Britain will fight on and is determined to do as much as he can to help the war effort before returning to Britain.
I prefer to leave details of the actual adventure as sketchy as possible, but I will say that once again there is plenty of action and adventure, of the sort that will appeal to young boys, who are clearly the target audience of this book. There is however quite a bit more to the story than that. In between battles, there are the ordinary struggles of growing up, boyish adventures, family dramas and the children finding out for themselves who they really are. This is a coming of age book almost as much as an espionage story.
The characters are exceptionally well developed. Marc is fiercely loyal to Henderson, as one might expect. This is in a sense his first love - not in the romantic sense, but the first time he has ever loved or been loved by another human being. A lesser spirit might have long since broken and rejected humanity, but Marc is thirsty for this sense of humanity. Paul is sensitive and artistic, and often frightened, but true bravery is not the absence of fear, it is the ability to act in spite of your fears, and in this regard, wee Paul is truly heroic. P.T. could go either way. He is a thief and a scoundrel of sorts - but he has also come from a very harsh background. Can he be trusted? You'll have to find out for yourself. But while this book is meant is meant to be written for boys, Rosie is the character that really stands out for me, and I can see this book appealing to adventurous girls every bit as much as the boys. I certainly would have loved this as a child, and Rosie is an ideal girls role model. She is strong, intelligent and brave, but also keeps a bit of human kindness that at times the males give up in brutal times.
Some of the Germans who are part of the occupying forces will also become known to the reader. These men are not presented so much as the enemy, but as human beings. There is one rather nasty one - although he was provoked a bit- but there are also kind men, with families and personalities which will make some parts of this story ever so much harder for the main characters. I really liked this aspect of this book, as too many books portray the villains as completely evil maniacs. In this book, they are simply men who ended up on opposite sides of a brutal conflict - but this is war and there is little room for compassion. Good men die as easily as bad ones.
I enjoyed this book so much I ordered the 3rd book before finishing it, and have now ordered the fourth as well. I think Muchamore is up there with Higson and Horowitz as the very best modern writers of young adult novels, but I go one further and remove the young adult label. Muchamore is one of the best modern writers in my opinion - full stop. I would certainly recommend this for older children - but I would recommend it every bit as much to adults.
I found this book very plausible, which is something I like. Henderson does not have any top secret gadgets. His most high tech item is a 2 way radio. He isn't able to beat up 20 German soldiers, or out shoot a whole regiment. In fact the violence in this book is more of a sneaky sort - which again is more realistic for an espionage story than going in with all guns blazing. This is all completely believable. But for those of you who prefer 100% historical accuracy, there is one event that simply did not happen - this is a work of fiction - not an accurate history. All the same, I think this book is bound to get some children interested in history and that is also a good thing.
As much as I loved this book though, and I do think my son would love it as well, at age 7, I do feel this book is not entirely appropriate. It does clearly state "Not Suitable for Younger Readers" on the back of the book - but doesn't tell us what constitutes a "younger reader". This book is very intense, with violence , death, and a real sense of impending danger. It could certainly disturb some younger readers. The fact that events like some of these really happened, especially things like bombings could prove more frightening for a young child. I have to admit though, I am very lax in regards to violence in children's literature as this done not disturb my son. But at age 7, I am very uncomfortable with sexual references. There are only two in this book. The first is one slightly older children will find very amusing. The second deals with a crude attempt at sexual assault. There are no graphic details, no description of any actual acts, and the attempted assault is dealt with quite well. I would have no problem with a child who knows what sex is reading this. I really think this is for parents to judge based on tier own child's sense of awareness about these issues, but I'd rather leave a book on the shelf for an extra year or two than introduce to much information at too early an age. Please keep in mind that this is quite low key - and fairly innocent. If my son were reading this at even 9 or 10, I think I would be fine with it, but as I say 7 is a bit too young in my opinion.
One other slight word of caution - there is also some very vague reference to the Holocaust, but no actual details. I have put off really teaching my son about this, because I had terrible nightmares as a child after learning about the Holocaust. Beyond that, it showed me just how evil the world could be, and in all honesty, I am not ready for him to be burdened with that knowledge yet. While the treatment of Jews is briefly mentioned as a horrific thing - no specifics are mentioned so this would not be an issue for me. Racism is also mentioned, but in such a way that I think this could be a great opening for a parent or teacher to discuss the issue a bit further. Racism is something my son is only vaguely aware of - and simply puts down it down to ignorance in much the same way as he brands sectarianism as foolish. I suppose children of his age will simply adopt their parents attitudes, but for anyone whom this might be an issue, it is handled in a positive way, although it is a very very small segment of the overall plot.
This book sells for £3.91 new from Amazon. Used copy prices very slightly, but usually come in near £2.50 including postage. At this price - I consider this a real bargain for a book that I am certain I will eventually reread myself, as well as collection my sons will read when they are older as well. This book will most definitely not end up in the ebay stack.
Despite her hopeless military situation, England shows no sign of willingness to come to terms. I have decided to prepare, and if necessary to carry out, a landing operation against her.
Adolf Hitler, July 16th 1940.
In this the second book in the series the only British spy in occupied France, Charles Henderson is reunited with 4 kids - Marc, Rosie, Paul and PT. Its 1940 and after the excitement of the sinking of the SS Cardiff Bay they find themselves living on a run down farm near Calais.
We find out more about PT and how this young American came to be in France.
In a mission to find out more about the Germans plans to invade Britain several of the characters find themselves working at high levels with the Germans as translators.
Henderson and the kids set out on a dangerous and daring mission which will test them to the limit, will they hold their nerve, will they survive, will they succeed?
What did I think?
I loved the first book and really hoped that this one would live up to my high expectations. It did. Yet again the book draws you in with its fabulous descriptions. The narrative is superb and realistic. I didn't want to put the book down. I thought that the first book was quite graphic in places but this one is far more violent with bombs and shootings. It's the kind of book that teenage boys will love.
RRP £6.99 but available cheaper on sites such as Amazon