When it comes to teen spy thriller series, I submit that Anthony Horowitz is the Beatles and Robert Muchamore is the Rolling Stones. Wait, hear me out.
Anthony Horowitz first burst on the YA scene with his Alex Rider series in 2000 with Stormbreaker, and the rest has been a fun, wild, and crazy adrenaline ride. Horowitz is a very able writer and his accomplishments are many. He wrote the Diamond Brothers series and a number of Roald Dahl-esque teen books before hitting the lottery with Alex Rider and his supernatural/science-filled series, The Power of Five. He is a terrific screenwriter (his Foyle’s War television drama is excellent) and he respects his audience, both adult and youth.
With Horowitz, you can count on fast-paced action, daring exploits, and fancy gadgets. There is a love interest that doesn’t go too far or distract from the thrill ride of action and facing up to bad guys. Good and evil are clear cut and easily identified. When it comes to a fun, imaginative ride, Horowitz really delivers! Just like the Beatles, he is high quality, reliably inventive but also very, very safe. You know the writing will be great and he delivers what we have come to expect.
With Muchamore’s CHERUB series, I find the characters more complex and the action messier; there are hardly any gadgets, and each book tackles a social issue that really make you think. In the first book, The Recruit, we meet James Adams, a juvie on the fast track to prison — until he is plucked up and trained as a secret agent. The social issue is eco-terrorism and James finds himself sympathizing with the cause (if not the methods) of the “enemy.” Many of the terrorists are likable people. The good guys can act inappropriately and go too far. Hey. We get it.
The plot format in the CHERUB books involves getting to know the adversary and what makes them tick, so to speak. There’s bad language and awkward situations. James’s best friend comes out as gay, and James has to go through a process of denial, acceptance, and finally affirmation that we witness as a struggle where not only does friendship win out, but James’s mind also opens to new possibilities of what it means to be a man. Just like the Stones, Muchamore believes life is messy and complicated. Things break and people die. As James goes through his missions, he matures and the ethical issues become more and more challenging. At my weekly middle school PHILS meeting we have discussed the contrast in depth, and most of us have come to appreciate both authors greatly, but if we had to choose what to save from a burning building, we’d probably grab the Muchamore. Sorry, Tony.
You can’t always get what you want … but if you try sometimes you just might find you get what you need.
— Ellen Snoeyenbos, currently reading Arcadia by Lauren Groff