Shadow Wave (CHERUB) by Robert Muchamore

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Shadow Wave (CHERUB) by Robert Muchamore

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Category: Teens
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: Linda Lawlor
Reviewed by Linda Lawlor
Summary: A greedy Malaysian official gets his come-uppance when young secret agents work together with protest groups in this high-powered adventure.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 352 Date: August 2010
Publisher: Hodder Children's Books
ISBN: 978-0340956472

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A shadow wave is a tidal flow that happens after a tsunami, and it can be deadly because it travels in the opposite direction and is often unexpected. Robert Muchamore's latest book in the CHERUB series is named after this phenomenon, and tells what happens when a bunch of young CHERUB secret agents and their teachers get caught up in the chaos in Malaysia which follows the 2004 earthquake and tsunami. They rescue impoverished villagers and help them begin rebuilding their homes, only to see all their hard work destroyed by government officials who use the disaster as an excuse to take away the fishermen's land and use it to build hotels for rich foreigners. Muchamore pulls no punches as he shows how greed and corruption win out over people's right to keep to their traditional lifestyles.

The story picks up four years later, and the second half of the book deals with a different kind of shadow wave: the corrupt official Tan Abdullah visits Britain, and various groups of protesters come together, unofficially supported by a few CHERUB agents, to pay him back for the greed and cruelty they witnessed in Malaysia. The story is a little fragmented because it follows two main characters, but everything comes together in the end.

A note on the back of this volume declares it unsuitable for younger readers, and it is easy to see why. Casual sex, even involving fourteen-year-olds, is apparently tolerated by the adults who run the training campus for young secret agents, considering it more as a security breach than a moral issue, and drug taking is mentioned several times. Other reviewers of the CHERUB series have mentioned the offensive language and the appallingly bratty behaviour of the young heroes in public, and there is indeed a scene at Heathrow airport which would have most self-respecting security staff gritting their teeth and reaching for their tasers. This is a difficult issue: on the one hand young people (correction: some young people) do speak and behave in this way, and should be able to read books that combine high-octane adventures with people they can relate to. On the other hand, considering their youth the main characters spend a surprisingly large amount of their time in bed together, or drunk, and the contrast between the young agents' off-duty behaviour and the very serious issues and moral dilemmas covered in the story is stark. Perhaps the best thing to say is that our society has a curious tendency to condone and even praise violence in our television viewing, while condemning any but the most oblique mentions of sex until after the watershed: the reader must make up his or her own mind.

Having said all that, there is much to admire in this book. Muchamore does not write about young agents fighting vague, unspecified or glorified bad guys: the crimes they seek to prevent are real, grimy and realistic, similar to those we read about in our papers and see on our screens every day. At the beginning of the book seventeen-year-old James Adams has spent the best part of a year infiltrating a violent biker gang, and he is present as they beat up a restaurant owner who is behind with his protection payments. Before the end of chapter three he has sustained some nasty injuries to his legs (though they're nothing compared to the satisfyingly agonising and embarrassing damage done to the evil gang leader!) and unlike the young heroes of some series, who bounce back from the most terrible beatings with careless ease, he is shown unable to wear anything but shorts or track-suit bottoms for some time afterwards because of his stitches (needless to say this does not go down well at a wedding he attends). Violence may be cool in Muchamore's world, but he makes it clear that it really, really hurts. Later in the book the offensively rich people we meet are, frankly, caricatures, but when it comes to the question of the issue of land development versus a more traditional way of life, both sides of the debate are given a fair hearing. Young readers will be thrilled and shocked by this book, but they will also be given much food for thought.

One final point: this could be seen as the last CHERUB book because James Adams, the character we have followed since the beginning of the series, is on his final mission. The question is even posed on the cover: is this the end for CHERUB? Readers are directed to the back of the book, where a coded message and a bookmark combine to send you to a website for the answer. Seriously cool, whatever your age!

Many thanks to Hodder for sending this book to The Bookbag.

Robert Muchamore's CHERUB books in Chronological Order

Further reading suggestion: Shadow Wave is the twelfth book in the series. If they have enjoyed this, readers might like to try another CHERUB book, The General. And Stormbreaker by Antony Horowitz provides Alex Rider with a lot of the same kind of action that James and his friends experience.

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