Marc Kilgour was abandoned at a railway station as an infant - the only life he's known is at the orphanage, where he and the other children must work for the simple food and barely adequate clothing, along with beatings for every infraction, they receive from the director. Twelve-year old Marc works for a nearby farmer, mucking out the cows sheds of the hundred and twenty litres of urine and loose feces each adult cow produces daily. When Marc tussles with the farmer's attractive daughter Jae, with whom he's slightly in love, she falls in a pit filled with this excrement, and Marc receives the beating of his life. When a German bomber crashes alongside the orphanage that evening Marc seizes inspiration and runs away.
Paul Clarke and his sister Rosie have been going to the English school in Paris because that's what their French mother wanted, and although most families have evacuated their father has waited until the tanks were at the edge of the country to leave. Ostensibly a clerk, Mr Clarke has secret papers that must get to London is the Allies have any hope of winning the war. When he pulls them out of school he seems unprepared for a flight, which results in the deaths of their landlady, a German soldier, and sadly Mr Clarke. Paul and Rosie are alone and surrounded by the population of a city fleeing ahead of an invading force.
This precursor to Muchamore's best selling CHERUB series begins the tale of how Englishman Charles Henderson set up a secret organisation that uses children as spies - it can easily be read by those unfamiliar with the initial series, but can hardly be said to stand alone.
Muchamore has brought the vibrancy of atmosphere, depth of character and rapidity of plot to this new series that the CHERUB books are known for. He conveys a strong sense of France on the brink of invasion in June 1940, from the use of child labour and casual corporal punishment to the looming threat of German occupation and pervasive hope that things won't really change that much. His children are courageous, determined and predominantly moral, though realistically and humanly flawed, and they undergo significant punishment, both physical and emotional.
I was, however, disappointed to find that The Escape, unlike each of the CHERUB novels, is not complete in itself but ends on a cliffhanger that demands the next book be read. Though I had, and have, every intention of doing so anyway, I really resent this approach whenever I come across it, and doing so twice in a month didn't help. I do hope that this won't be the case for the entire series of Henderson's Boys. - Alex