Max and the Flock, children with wings, have run away from the School, the lab complex where they spent the first part of their lives locked in cages and experimented on. After four years, their hiding place has been discovered, and Angel, the youngest, is captured. The others must get her back and find answers to their own questions along the way.

Be warned: the subject matter of this series is quite distasteful at times. However, it’s not gratuitous or voyeuristic, and in fact represents a warning to advocates of therapeutic cloning that the human beings they create are just that: human beings, and not objects for experimentation. As far as the scientists at the School are concerned, Max and the others are merely the successful survivors of genetic experiments on children in the womb and later. The failures are left to die, sometimes horrifically mutated or deformed. And when Angel is recaptured, all they want to do is run her through vicious and torturous mazes and look forward to dissecting her brain.

Although the children believe they escaped four years ago, it seems as if that was just another experiment, and the man they trusted, whom they looked on as a father, was betraying them all the time. His continuing pleas that there’s a bigger picture for which they’re all being prepared are almost as disgusting as the more straightforward scares of the monstrous kids kept in cages. He’s helped by the Erasers, werewolf-like creatures which represent the only other success story from the School. There’s tragedy here, too, because although

14-year-old Max is our first-person narrator, and she uses the manner and slang of an ordinary teenage girl, so don’t expect literary haute cuisine. The plot is lightweight and loosely episodic, if fast-moving, and the story runs the risk of being too insubstantial for its serious subject matter. But it’s helped out by the characters of the children and their interactions. The good news is that the six children who make up the Flock are individuals. They’re all fiercely loyal to each other and to their joint ideals. They’ve been dealt a poor hand in life, and they’re doing what they can to get on and make the best of it. Max, the oldest by a few months, is the de facto leader, and feels especially responsible for the younger ones who look up to her. She tries to guard her mouth in their hearing, and is dismayed when Angel, the youngest, coerces a kind woman to buy her an expensive teddy bear in a toy shop. The younger ones, in turn, try to live up to her ideals, and do their best not to give into the self-pity which would have been perfectly understandable. But they’re not plaster saints, and at times they’re perfectly normal, grizzly little kids.

The children were in the School for as long as they can remember, and they don’t know if they were born in test-tubes or from their mother, nor who their parents are. It’s something which drives them at several points in the story, and it looks as though some of them were given voluntarily to the lab. While their powers might seem enviable – they can fly, they’re strong and fast, they have excellent vision – they regard themselves as mutant freaks and would rather have a family.

Tim Golden is a computer programmer in London.  He is also the editor of the Good-to-Read website.