Muchamore's original CHERUB series originally targeted teen age boys. In fact the whole motivation for Muchamore writing his first book was meant to be a complaint from his nephew that he couldn't find anything interesting to read. His nephew didn't take to Muchamore's book either - but a lot of other people did, as the original CHERUB series had sold over 5 million copies in 2011. It isn't just boys reading his books anymore, the gender split is meant to be 60/40, and a great many adults have taken to the series as well - myself included of course. Muchamore claims his strong female characters were purely an accident, but whether he intended these characters to appeal to girls not - they certainly do. The main character though, has always been James Adams a boy.
In People's Republic, the main character is meant to be male as well, newcomer Ryan Sharma. This book has two separate and distinct story lines which eventually come together, but I believe more space has been given to the story of Fu Ning - and it's cracker of story. At 11 years old Ning just doesn't fit in. She's very big and stocky, in contrast to most young Chinese girls, but more importantly, she is very non conformist. She has been thrown out of a prestigious school for sports, where she trained as boxer. So far her adoptive parents money has kept her from serious trouble - but soon they are in more trouble than she is - and she is dragged into with her whole life flipped upside down. Ning must now escape China with her adoptive (British)mother, using the questionable services of people smugglers. Ning is an absolutely brilliant character. She conveys all the anguish of a child who is socially outcast, but with such a powerful inner reserve that she maintains her sense of self through the most horrible of situations. In a way, she reminds me of the ugly duckling, but she never succumbs to self pity andhas the courage of a bear.
Meanwhile, 12 year old Ryan is on his first mission. He is sent to befriend Ethan, the grandson of the head of a powerful crime cartel which specialises in smuggling everything form knock off goods to drugs and human cargo. His friendship for young Ethan soon grows to the real thing. But he is still only 12 years old and up against not only the criminals who would harm Ethan, but certain agencies willing to use the child as a pawn. How long can he keep his best friend alive? I am always very careful to avoid spoilers, but it doesn't take a rocket scientist to realise that at some point the stories are going to intersect - and that Ning displays every characteristic to make her an ideal candidate for CHERUB.
Once again I was very dubious buying this book. Once again Amazon tempted me with a very low price on the first book in the series. This book is very different from the original CHERUB - it does not attempt to recreate James Adams in anyway - going instead for totally new and unique characters. Ning is about as unique as they come. It does retain something of the original flavour of the series. It is not necessary at all to have read the previous books, in fact - for a female reader - I might recommend this one first but I believe it still has enough adventure to keep the boys reading. But while you don't have to read the previous books - you do have to read the next book. This book is very much a two part story - and it does leave you hanging a bit with the ending. It does feel to me, like half a story, although there is some conclusion to some issues. On it's own - I think I'd find it frustrating. I ended up ordering book 2 right away ( full price as well). This book seems to be laying the groundwork for a whole new series, developing new agents to star in new books. I do hope the next book has more resolution at the end - and Muchamore has mentioned wanting to move on to adult fiction. I'd crack if he just left the next one hanging as well.
I have to say, I am delighted that Muchamore took a chance with such a change in characters. This could be such a wonderful book for teenage girls who just aren't into vampires or fairy tale romances. I honestly do think this book offers readers something very different from the vast numbers of young adult novels out today. I believe this was Muchamore's 19th book in total and he still keeps everything fresh and new. I always liked this writer for the strength of his characters, but I think he has outdone himself on this one. Ning is a character you won't forget.
This book is written for teens, and it does contain some mature subject matter. There is violence, death, torture, and some strong language. Reference is also made to the sex trade, although details are not given. Although Muchamore has been very sparing in details in this case ( unlike his plane crash description) the deaths of illegal immigrants trying to make it to Britain will also be mentioned as well as something of the pure desperation - and it isn't a pretty thought. Sweat shops and what amounts to modern day slavery will also feature in this. I think this is fine for older readers, and these are subjects people need to be aware of, but I can also understand that some may find this unsuitable for a children's book. In my opinion, it is delicately handled, and I wouldn't have a real problem with my son reading this. The worst part is - it does make you feel helpless. We all know this happens Britain. I think most of us very strongly wish it did not. Personally - I feel much more could be done to stop it - but what can we do?