The premise is also boss; an organization of spies that only have kids, in orer to prevent suspicion when undercover. James joins after he starts a new life and then tries to hide some of her mom's criminal money using a nice strategy. He ends up getting figured out about it, and despite his criminal record he set himself up with trying to steal beer, guess where he decides to end up going? There's a reason that he decided to join. Because nothing was really left for him. If only there were.
I was intrigued to see his first mission, but it turns out he needs some training first. And that's the problem with this. Everyone is sophisticated to a fault, and everyone has many expecations for James that are way too big for a starter. The training is as unbearable to James as it is to us. He has to rock climb, do karate, and swim until his lungs are choked with water. Everyone calls him weak and he more or less lets them get away with it. Soon he even wishes he didn't come, Robert Muchamore insulting his own work.
And what's with the characters? Let me put it this way. Everyone, except James, needs a mental hospital, especially some of the teachers. My two least favourite characters are Kerry and Mr. Large. On one of the first days of training, someone resets James' alarm clock so that he is two hours late for training with Mr. Large. I wouldn't call showing up at 7am late...Okay, yes, I would, when it starts at 5, but if school started at 5am, I wouldn't care if I needed to take two extra years of school, I'm not waking up at 4 every day. Anyway, it turned out Mr. Large was making everyone do push-ups and crazy exercises until he showed up. He's the sort of teacher that will cause breakups, and he may even enjoy it. He deserves to be in jail. Kerry's jsut as bad, being James' aggressive intolerable "friend". When they are a team, every mistake that happens, she blames on James. And when James decides to get her back one day for all the bruises she gave him in karate, they get in so much trouble, it's scary. Kerry and Mr. Large blame it all on James, and even he agrees. I like it when girls are able to stand up for themselves, with the girl problem that's been going on since forever, but Muchamore totally overdoes it.
When we get to the missions, things seem more hopeful, it always being a mistake when the description of the mission is more interesting than the outcome. James' first job, with a few actual friends, is to invade the house of a vandal, and in a few ways, they screw up, but when they get back to camp, the President punishes them over a tiny mistake so brutal, I couldn't believe my eyes. Wait a minute. Brutal? This may be a camp with serious society jobs, but The Recruit may convince teenagers that they should light their school on fire. I may like crime stories, but I don't mean all this in a good way.
So three quarters of the way done the book, I knew I'd give this thumbs down, but I still wasn't sure about how the final act would be. Once again, the description was much better, talking about a village that has been targeted by the authorities since 1971, and police traps have been set and used. Okay, I thought. Let's see how it goes down. James and his snoring swimming teacher Amy went undercover as relatives, and they did pretty much nothing but get up early. At the end of the book, James returns and everyone congratulates him, some not believing he was that same person they made fun of. I was thinking, "...Whose side was James on?" And even worse, his mission accomplished is no such thing, unless if it's to betray.
I'm still a bit intrigued to see if this series gets better. The first one made me hope that in the next ones, James decides to switch sides and rebel against Cherub. That would get major points from me. I may not be in a position to say this, seeing as I've only read Book 1, but right now, I say, "You want a spy kid novel? Read Alex Rider instead." And look out for a review of the first book, Stormbreaker.