I have been reading a lot of older children's fiction lately, much of it excellent, but this series is in a class of it's own. I would have given it 10 stars if it was an option. I read the first book and then immediately ordered the other nine in the series and read them back to back and my husband, who is not such a voracious reader, did the same - they are that good. It is worth starting with The Recruit as the characters and the back stories do develop through the series, although the plots stand alone in each book. Any child over the age of 10 ought to love them - I bought them for all my nieces and nephews and even the ones who don't normally read, were totally engrossed by them. I also read some Alex Rider to compare and have to say they are not a patch on Cherub - possibly a good start for the younger readers but Alex Rider felt very one dimensional after reading Robert Muchamore.
The basic premise of the books is that children who are orphaned or abandoned are recruited to a secret service (Cherub)that uses children as spies (because no-one suspects children). They have to be clever with potential but the main characters, James and Lauren, definitely comes from the wrong side of the tracks so not quite so snobby as some novels in a similar vein. However, unlike most orphans in fiction, these children are not to be pitied; they are an elite force and get the best education, the best computers, great bedrooms with en-suite facilities and stuff that all kids aspire to. The plots are gripping and deal with contemporary issues such as drugs, child prostitution, animal rights, religious cults and terrorism in a way that younger readers can understand without ever patronising them. The plots are interwoven with the challenges of day to day teenage life, relationships, exams, homework and bullying teachers and the main characters develop throughout the series. As with all the best fiction, the author manages to weave a strong vein of humour through the books, they made me laugh out loud at times.
If you are worried about teenage girls fictional and media influences, you will love these books. Lauren, the little sister, takes a lead role in later books and is a great role model for young girls in terms of being fit and strong (rather than slim), studying hard to achieve results and beating the boys. I am the wrong side of 40 and well aware of all the healthy eating messages etc but still felt inspired to get to the gym after reading these books! None of this is done in a preachy way - the strongest message about healthy eating came in the novel about religious cults, Divine Madness, showing how you can control people with blood sugar rushes to create hysteria and to keep them physically and mentally weak with poor nutrition (this was probably my favourite in the whole series). The moral ambiguities are not skimmed here, Muchamore does not offer any trite right/wrong solutions and I think the books are better for it. All the main characters are fully rounded, both James and Lauren behave in ways which are morally suspect on occasions because they are human and insecure, but they have to address the consequences of their behaviour and the impact on their friends and on each other. This is adult fiction for young readers which all adults and older children will enjoy. Just buy the whole series now because you will really will wish it was true!!