When his mother dies, James is sent to a children's care home called Nebraska House, while James' sister Lauren is taken to live with her father Ronald Onions, causing James to lose contact with her. Whilst staying in Nebraska House, James shares a room with Kyle Blueman who turns out to be an agent on a recruiting mission after a disaster in the Caribbean, James finds out after he is recruited,to Cherub, that it was Kyle who had pointed him out as a good candidate.
James is taken to his mother's house, which has already been ransacked by Ronald. He then searches for a safe in which she kept all the money she made from her shoplifting, hoping that Ronald hasn't already found it. He finds the safe and tries to figure out the combination to unlock it. He searches around the safe, and spots a label. James finds a book that Ronald would never think of looking in and on one of the pages, he finds the combination written on. After unsuccessfully attempting to open the lock James realises there is an order of rotation direction, written on the label as a note from the manufacturer. James finds a mass of bank notes stashed away in the safe and after hurriedly cramming them into a bin liner,3 James leaves the combination, label and a picture of himself to anger Ron.
James makes friends with some rebellious teens and is arrested. He is drugged and taken to CHERUB Campus not long after his twelfth birthday. The chairman, Dr Terrence McAfferty or "Mac" (on a good day), tells him about CHERUB and puts James through a series of tests. These test range from physical like climbing and strength which James does well. James also does well in a test of judgment, a swimming test. He refuses to do it, claiming his inability to swim. This shows Mac he is not foolhardy, and James gets a pass. He does not fare so well when he is put up against Bruce Norris, a martial artist, and later, friend. Still, he passes the test because he shows Mac his judgment of dangerous situations. Also, there is an exam paper consisting of maths and verbal reasoning questions. James does well with maths, yet only average with verbal and reasoning questions. He is also asked to kill a chicken as one of the tests, but disagrees initially, stating that it was cruel. Eventually after Mac's persuasion, he does, but gets a low pass for his indecision.
James is admitted into CHERUB and following CHERUB conditions to become an agent, James changes his last names to Anthony Adams, after the old Arsenal footballer Tony Adams. He begins a personal fitness regime after fears of not being fit enough to qualify for training, mainly running 15 laps of the athletics track per day, as well as being taught how to swim by an older, fellow CHERUB, Amy Collins.
All aspiring agents must have completed this course to be allowed to participate in missions, however there is always the chance to quit, but the agent must begin from the beginning again. Basic Training is mainly carried out in the CHERUB campus, however there are trips to other countries for training in other environments, James was sent to Malaysia.
Later on, James is sent on his first mission at a hippies settlement claimed from an out of date document stating that the grounds were free for all by a 17th Century owner. His cover story is that he and his partner are nephew an niece of one of MI5s secret informants. His mission briefing describes a struggle between police and the hippies over settlement rights thirty years back, the hippies won.
He and Amy must find and stop two (hippy-born) teenagers, named Fire and World, and a Redneck environmentalist, named Brian "Bungle" Evans, from killing thousands of people from an anthrax attack. Unfortunately while investigating Fire and World's workshop, James is suspected of contracting the anthrax disease but is later (and after a lot of very toxic and vomit inducing drugs) pronounced to have a vaccine strain of the disease and so is declared fit to continue with the mission, under the cover that he had been hit by a car.
The mission ends with a large, and partially armed, police force clearing away the Hippy settlement and James and Amy sent back to the CHERUB Head-quarters and de-briefed. James is given his Navy shirt for outstanding courage in the face of death, although Kyle believes it was down to the pity of being poisoned on a first mission.