Shadow Wave begins with James Adams working undercover with MI5 as a Brigands Motorcycle Club biker, trying to bring down its leader Ralph "The Führer" Donnington (continuing from the eleventh CHERUB book - Brigands M.C.). His x-girlfriend Kerry Chang is also working with him as an interpreter in a set-up weapons deal. The police surround them and the Führer tries to escape and ends up falling down a cliff and seriously damaging his leg. He is taken into police custody.
James returns to CHERUB campus to a wedding between some CHERUB staff and meets a lot of his old friends, as well as, staff, including his former girlfriend Dana Smith who retired the previous year, and retired agent Kyle Blueman. Kyle finds a mission briefing for James to act as the son of David Secombe, an important figure in the British Government who is negotiating a weapons deal with Malaysian Defence Minister Tan Abdullah when he comes to the UK. Kyle tells James about how, when he was assisting in a CHERUB intensive training course in Malaysia in 2004, he met a young boy named Aizat Rakyat, who told him how Abdullah is demolishing native villages to make way for luxurious hotels. When the Boxing Day tsunami struck he used the disaster to "evacuate" the villagers and therefore built more hotels. James, disgusted, quits the mission and joins Kyle in a scheme to embarrass Abdullah.
James' sister, Lauren Adams, and a younger agent Kevin Sumner are also going on the mission. James sneaks into Lauren's room in the early morning and installs a tracking device in her cellphone. He is then about to leave when his friend Bruce Norris (who has broken up with his girlfriend Bethany Parker) agrees to join them. Together, they go and meet Helena Bayliss, runner of charity Guilt Trips and journalist Hugh Verhoeven. Lauren and Kevin go on a shopping trip with the daughter and son of Tan Abdullah, and James, using the tracking device in Lauren's phone, invites paparazzi to their locations, embarrassing Tan Abdullah's family.
Eventually, James leaves for Stanford University in California. When James returns to London to visit Kerry and Lauren, they visit Gwen Choke's grave, and clean the headstone up. The three of them leave after Kerry tells them that Gwen, if she could see them now, would be very proud of them.
In the epilogue of the book it is said that Bethany Parker is expelled from CHERUB because she breached security by continuing to have a relationship with someone she met outside campus on a mission. Kerry leaves CHERUB campus and joins James in Stanford University. Even though Kerry was suspicious that James cheated on her during his first year of college, he did not. Meatball is also revealed to have become a father of three puppies. Ron died from throat cancer shortly after being released from prison and James meets his dad after seeing his name on one of his school textbooks.
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