Legend by John Brindley

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Legend by John Brindley

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Category: Teens
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Summary: Stark warning about the perils of genetic research combined with some polemic about vivisection. Who will guard the guards? It's tense, pacy and absorbing, if perhaps a trifle alarmist.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 272 Date: August 2009
Publisher: Orion
ISBN: 1842557181

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Who will guard the guards? Who will watch the watchers?

Such philosophical questions don't often occur to sport-obsessed Blake. He's either winning sprint races, in which case he's on top of the world. Or he's losing them, in which case life is not worth living. He's been losing more often of late - since adolescent growth spurts hit, Blake has filled out and his new, bulkier body seems to have a lot less speed. He's rapidly becoming a has-been, and he doesn't like it one little bit.

On a school trip to a research lab, Blake and his class are shown Supermouse - a mouse injected with a genetic serum that can run further and faster than any normal one. When an anti-vivisectionist in his group creates a furore, Blake sees an opportunity to resurrect his fading athletics career. If he steals some serum, he'll be a champion again. In the melee, clutching the serum, Blake runs down the wrong corridor and ends up in a world he can barely recognise. There are three-headed dogs, giant orangutans and a girl who is half human, half seal. Her name is Chimera and for some inexplicable reason, she seems to recognise him.

Later, back in the real world, Blake finds himself charged with theft and accused of drug addiction. There was no strange world, he's told, it was all a figment of his spaced-out state. Even Blake doesn't quite know what to believe, but he's quite sure that he changed his mind about stealing that serum...

... the problem is proving it.

I was out of breath by the last page of Legend. It's a pacy, high-octane adventure, with a final hundred-page chase scene that you simply have to read all in one go. It continues the exploration of evolution and its manipulation through genetic research that we've seen in other works by John Brindley. There's also a strong anti-vivisection theme running through it. Blake himself is well-drawn. He begins the book as a typical self-obsessed adolescent - intent on achieving his own aims, childishly mocking others for their disabilities, cheerfully uninterested in anything that doesn't affect him. But there are seeds inside him beginning to crack open. He already feels uncomfortable when his friend Alfie mocks Vanessa, who has muscular dystrophy. By the end, he is ready to sacrifice anything to stand up for a principle. This picaresque arc to the book is exceptionally satisfying, I think.

The book's main thrust, though, is a stark warning about the dangers of unfettered genetic research. Someone, Brindley says, must guard the guards. I'm all for advancing science and I'm a rationalist to my very core, but I am in sympathy with this view, and in sympathy with the anti-vivisection slant too. Scientists can't police themselves - it's a competitive world and ethics are too easily thrown away for the prize of a new piece of knowledge. Governments can't police scientists too well either - they have too many secrets and too many temptations to use the discoveries for profit or war and not the common weal. Animals aren't Cartesian lumps of meat.

And so, I think, we need fiction for children that explores these issues. This is the generation whose opinions will form our future actions. I applaud Brindley for getting into the mix. However, we do need some balance and I think Legend does lack a little and tends towards alarmism and conspiracy theory just a bit too often. It's a great book, but make sure they read it with both an open mind and the tiniest of pinches of salt.

My thanks to the good people at Orion for sending the book.

If the issues surrounding genetics and evolution interest them, they'll also enjoy Brindley's previous novel The Rule of Claw and Escape from Genopolis by T E Berry-Hart. Slightly older children could look at The Inferior by Peadar ó Guilín.

Buy Legend by John Brindley at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Legend by John Brindley at Amazon.co.uk

Buy Legend by John Brindley at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Legend by John Brindley at Amazon.com.


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