I recently spent a large part of a year blitzing on CHERUB, which is a witty and enjoyable YA series by Robert Muchamore about a section of British Intelligence that solely uses child agents. Anthony Horowitz’s Alex Rider series gave us the adventures of a 14-y.o. boy co-opted into working for MI6 against his will, and it did fantastically well commercially. However I prefer CHERUB because the kids are actually realistic. Much was made of Alex Rider being like a young modern James Bond, but he was well behaved and essentially sexless. (Apart from an on-off girlfriend, Sabina Pleasure: say it out loud.) Like the Harry Potter series, CHERUB follows one particular boy over seven years, from entry into the organisation at 11 to leaving it at 18, and also like Harry Potter there is a supporting cast of other kids who you get to know and love. But unlike Harry Potter the kids occasionally swear and get drunk and have (mostly) age-appropriate sex (in later books) and misbehave and generally act like real teenagers. Some of the adults are cool, some are not. Ditto the children. And it appeals to the sfnal side of my nature in that it’s an exercise in “what if”. What if an organisation like CHERUB actually did exist – how would it operate? I could really feel that if such an organisation did exist, it would be like this.
In the most recently read, Lone Wolf, a non-CHERUB boy and girl finally get together as a Bonnie & Clyde type couple and set off on a life of crime. Only on the last page did it occur to me there was a reason they were called Fay and Warren. I bet most of the target readership didn’t get it.
Muchamore has also written a spin-off series showing the origins of CHERUB during World War 2. A British agent, Charles Henderson, is trapped behind enemy lines after the fall of France. He falls in with a random selection of French, British and American kids, and makes the most of his situation by conducting his own campaign against the Boche. On making his way back to Blighty he persuades his superiors in the Espionage Research Unit to create a new kid-based outfit. The new outfit is called Espionage Research Unit B. Or, if you like, Charles Henderson’s Espionage Research Unit B.