Revisiting the CHERUB series: The most clapped books we read as kids

The amount of teen sex was just not okay

Cast your mind back to the start of the 2010s. You’d chewed and spat out the Twilight, Hunger Games and Artemis Fowl books and now it was time to take another deep dive into the pool of young adult fiction. Enter CHERUB, the brainchild of then 30-year-old author Robert Muchamore. The central premise of the books was Alex Rider meets Harry Potter. Orphaned kids were scooped from their mundane lives and trained in secret to be MI5 agents. Our hero, James Adams, was basically a teenage James Bond: a blonde, handsome maths prodigy who could get with any girl he came across.

But let’s back it up a little. While the heroes and heroines of your average young adult novel might hold hands and kiss their beloved every now and then, the randy teens of CHERUB were at it like rabbits almost constantly and in sometimes weirdly specific detail. We’re talking boobs out, shagging in baths, the works. James especially finds himself in a horny entanglement every time he goes on a mission. The level of description in some of the scenes was, in hindsight, a bit gross when you bear in mind the man writing them was in his 30s. It doesn’t stop there, either. The books were full of fucked-up moments, so I revisited all 12 to drag them up again:

The Recruit

The first book introduces us to our protagonist. James’s deal is that his mum runs a crime organisation of some kind, affording him and his sister Lauren a relatively comfortable life. However tragedy strikes when James’s mum dies and he’s cast into the not-so-loving arms of the fictional British care system. Just when it looks like James has hit rock bottom he’s recruited into CHERUB and given the chance to be a secret agent. In a moment that really sets the tone for the rest of the series, James is made to kill a chicken with a biro during his entrance exams and it shits all over him.

Age 12, James is chucked into basic training, a hellish bootcamp where he gets abused for 100 days straight by a man called Mr Large (more on him later). He’s the lucky one, most recruits are made to do it after they turn 10. It is, quite frankly, an Ofsted inspector’s worst nightmare. Along the way James is trained to be a superhuman child – that means mastery of another language, killer-level martial arts skill, and survival knowhow that would make Bear Grylls’s cock shrivel up like en envious little raisin. CHERUB’s Hogwarts-like academy is full of kids with similar levels of aptitude. The climax of the books has James going toe-to-toe with eco-terrorists and nearly dying of Anthrax poisoning because of course it does.

Class A

The ambitious second book has James and his mates join a drug-dealing enterprise to try and bring down its boss. James, now 13, has to bike round London delivering bags of coke to wealthy middle class businessmen and woman. This is where CHERUB’s horny reality reveals itself. James acquires his first girlfriend and cheats on her almost immediately. Class A reveals that Kyle, James’s best mate, is gay. How is this revealed? Well another character points out how neat and tidy Kyle is, that he hangs his clothes up, and that he’s never had a girlfriend. How could James not have seen? They ask. Real nice and progressive, that!

It’s also worth pointing out that each of these books has about seven pages of “mission briefing” in lieu of exposition and yeah it’s bad.

Maximum Security

Book three is when sanity gets thrown straight out of the window and James, still around 13 years old, finds himself sent to a maximum security prison for the nastiest young criminals on the planet. Not only does he survive a prison in which broken necks apparently occur pretty routinely, he busts himself and a target out of the prison. By this point James has begun one of many relationships with another character, Kerry, and this book establishes just how ready he is to cheat on her. It’s like the young adult version of boys going on boys’ holidays and cheating. He’s never really held accountable for this, to be honest, so if you got cheated on by your boyfriend when you were younger you can probably blame James.

The Killing

Mr large returns here big style and begins bullying and abusing James’s 10-year-old sister Lauren. By this point Lauren has already knocked him out with a shovel after being ordered to dig her own grave with it, so yeah, we really are through he stupid barrier at this point. Mr Large is more-or-less allowed to go off and live his life afterwards (again, more on him later).

Divine Madness

Obligatory cult episode.

Man Vs Beast

Kyle acquires a boyfriend while on a mission in this instalment during the course of the book shags him in James’s bed, much to James’s homophobic disgust. Mainly this reveals that James has carried much his distaste for Kyle’s sexuality for several years, which is super good and cool. James later goes on to tease his sister after she turns veggie by leaving lamb chops in her bag. What a role model.

The Fall

Now 15 years old, James begins The Fall in Russia, but whatever he’s doing gets jeopardised by MI5 agents double crossing him. For days, James is forced to survive by sleeping in a random bathtub somewhere, killing pigeons and cooking them. Again, where is Ofsted? Later in the book our hero gets drunk and tries to pressure Kerry into sex, which is obviously an opportune moment for James to face some form of consequence, except he doesn’t. Kerry forgives him. As if it couldn’t get any worse, James begins an affair with another character, Dana. While they’re snogging (Rob’s words not mine), Dana gets her boobs out which again is just a super weird thing for a 30-year-old man to be describing. After everything Kerry put up with James then just ditches her for Dana instead.

Mad Dogs

Mr Large returns to the fray at this point, blackmailing 13-year-old Lauren into lying for him by threatening to kill her dog. In revenge, the gang conspire to have James get with Large’s adoptive daughter. Much mirth is had at her being overweight and how gross James finds it to get with her. It’s not a good look for anyone involved.

The real stand out yikes moment is, of course, James losing his virginity age 15. So he goes to a gang leader’s house, where an injury he’s sustained is treated by the resident daughter, Lois. Lois runs James a bath, and once James gets in it she flings a condom at him. By the next page, James’s mate, who was downstairs listening the whole time, comments gleefully that there was a lot of splashing water and that Lois said at one point: “You’re not bad for a first-timer.”

Not only was it a super weird scene to begin with, James cheats on Dana to do the deed, and rather than dump him, Dana FORGIVES HIM and just makes him go take an STD test. Jesus, take the wheel.

The Sleepwalker

The CHERUB squad spend the whole book trying to take down a plane dealer suspected of terrorism. In fact he was just selling on parts. Real time-waster, this one.

The General

Instead of taking down corrupt criminals, James and his pals are roped into a training exercise which is essentially glorified paintball. After sabotaging their opponents’ water supply and giving them all violent diarrhea, James and a staff member are ejected from fancy paintball. James, using his maths skills, aids an instructor to dodgily win loads of money in a casino. Stay in school kids!

Brigands M.C.

Seemingly out of ideas at this point, Rob throws James into the south of England where he becomes a sexy biker because that’s what we do with out 16-year-old protagonists in 2011. The villain of the week is a biker ganglord who literally calls himself the Führer. Yup. James is back with Kerry again and YES he cheats on her by shagging someone in a tent, all the while holding down a mission girlfriend. What happens in Devon stays in Devon, lads!

Shadow Wave

You know how most young adult books give you flawed characters and use them to teach some sort of moral lesson. None of that here, James doesn’t really change a lot from the consistently unfaithful, subtly homophobic guy who gets by on good looks and an aptitude for maths. James’s final mission is called off and instead he spends his final adventure going rogue. At the end of it all he ends up living happily every after in a top American uni with Kerry. What, and I cannot stress this enough, the fuck?

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Featured image by Peter Olexa on Unsplash