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I've been working my way through Robert Muchamore's CHERUB series quite quickly after having been roped in with a brilliant price on the first book. This book is the twelfth, and the final book in the original series ( Muchamore has started another CHERUB series set in WW2, and has written a couple of books with a new main character, but following the modern storyline). In general, this series is very fast paced, with quite a lot of action, excitement and adventure and more than it's share of controversial subjects. But in addition to be a boy spy series, these books also follow the lives of a group of children growing up and there is a fair amount on the relationships between the young agents throughout the series.
One thing I have to give this author, even with 12 books, he has managed to keep each one unique and different from its predecessors. I quite liked this book, but the reviews are very mixed as it ended up a bit too different for many readers. There isn't much of a mission in this book - at least not an official mission. Kyle - one of my very favourite characters returns as a young adult and involves some of the children on a mission of his own. This will pit them against British intelligence forces and each young person must make the decision for themselves - to follow orders or follow their conscience when Kyle tries to take down a corrupt and brutal Malaysian politician - who just happens to be negotiating a massive arms contract with the British defence industry. There is also the final part of previous mission in the first couple of chapters of this book. As the series has progressed there has been more and more of tendency for one book to run into the next a wee bit. This is not a criticism, I enjoyed it, but it will leave a newcomer to the series confused.
In order to understand Kyle's motivation for such a drastic step, we are taken back in time 5 years to a CHERUB training session in Malaysia, where Kyle and several other CHERUBS befriend local villagers after the devastation of a shadow wave from the boxing day tsunami. After working all day to help rebuild damaged housing the CHERUBS end up watching as security forces move in to level teh homes, using teh tsunami as an excuse and attacking any residents who protest. Kyles friend will later be imprisoned and tortured as will others who protest the leveling of villages to make way for fancy resorts.
Muchamore's books often tackle very serious social issues and while this is fiction, it does have some basis in fact. In fact many villagers in Malaysia and other parts of Asia have been evicted and more will be evicted to make way for huge resorts catering to Western tourists. Although I was not aware of the specifics of these cases before reading this book - I have often wondered about the impact of Western tourism on many developing countries. Do we do more harm or more good? On the one hand, tourism brings jobs, money and some infrastructure to these countries - but how much of the benefit do the original inhabitants see? And how many are really happier scrubbing loos in a fancy resort for a wage than they were catching fish as their ancestors have done for 1,000's of years? The government claims that progress is good for the country - but the people disagree. they hold no title to the land though, as it has been passed down from one generation to the next for centuries. I can not help but feel that forcing these people to change their way of life is wrong. I'm glad Muchamore brought this topic up, and I wish there were more publicity on these issues. I believe most British tourists would want to know if a resort they plan to visit was built under these circumstances, and I believe most of us would be willing to pay a bit extra for holidays that are more sensitive to the indigenous populations. We need some sort of "sustainable tourism" and information to help us choose holidays that help rather than harm the native population.
I don't believe this book had the fast pace of the earlier novels, and I can see how this would disappoint some readers, especially in the target audience of teenage boys. There are a few fights and a limited amount of suspense, but this book is slower, more thoughtful and covers some serious moral issues. It also has quite a bit on the interrelationships between different members as James prepares to leave CHERUB. There is a fair amount of activity on campus, and this does include one episode of underage drinking. For all the criticism the author gets for this, it is realistic, teens do drink, and he does not portray drinking in a very positive light. He mentions with one of the girls that her sweat smelled of alcohol and her breath of puke - hardly a romantic image - but again realistic. But for the most part, this book wraps everything up and brings the story to a close. It also deals with the joy and heartbreak of growing up and leaving your childhood behind as you start the journey into adulthood.
This book is not recommended unless you have read the rest of the series. It really can not stand alone. You won't have any idea what the book is wrapping up - or a real feeling for the characters. If you have already read the rest of the books, you already know all the issues to do with somewhat mature topics for young readers, but this book in itself does not have anything I found objectionable.