Monday, July 30, 2007

Too Smart for Anyone's Good

I've got a backlog of books to blog about, so I'm going to do some (hopefully) shorter posts about them to help myself catch up. Here's the first:

Evil Genius by Catherine Jinks
4Q 4P, J

Cadel Piggott is a genius. If you're astute and you've read the title of the book, you rightly assume that he is an evil genius. But it's not completely his fault. After all, what would you expect a kid to be when, after getting arrested for hacking into computers at the age of seven, he is brought to a child psychologist who tells him that his one big mistake was getting caught? As it turns out, the psychologist, Dr. Roth, is a bit of an evil genius himself. Or at least, he's evil, and he's the go-between for Cadel and another evil genius: Cadel's real father. Cadel's father, Dr. Phineas Darkkon, is in jail for various nefarious plans. But his biggest nefarious plan is one the authorities can't stop: he plans to educate and train people with superior abilities (like Cadel) and help them take over the world.

Over the years, Dr. Roth and Dr. Darkkon guide Cadel as he goes through school honing his talent for lying, manipulating, and plotting, as well as developing his computer hacking skills. (He uses all of these skills in developing an online dating service that winds up being significant for many reasons.) Finally, at the age of fourteen, he is ready to enroll in his father's Axis Institute to be trained in the arts necessary for world domination. His courses include Basic Lying, Pure Evil, Embezzlement, Contagion, and Assassination.

Up to this point, Cadel has had no problem with his father's plans for him. But the Axis Institute isn't for the faint of heart. Tortured screams echo the halls, classes are disrupted by deadly explosions, and blood frequently drips from the ceilings, fellow students die (horribly) or mysteriously disappear, and the faculty is deeply suspicious of each other and their students. Even for Cadel, it's all a bit too much and he begins to wonder if being an evil genius is all it's cracked up to be.

I'm going to recommend this one to kids who like the Eoin Colfer's Artemis Fowl books, with a few caveats. This one is a lot longer than those books, and it doesn't have as humorous a tone. But it does have a kid-as-criminal-mastermind theme, and the kid is every bit as interesting as Artemis is. I think it's more complex than the Artemis Fowl books, and it's certainly darker in tone and theme. I know elementary school kids like the Artemis Fowl books as much as middle school readers do, but I think Evil Genius is better suited to Artemis's older readers, as well as readers who don't mind a book where the action moves a little more slowly. I think I might also suggest this book to teens who have enjoyed Muchamore's C.H.E.R.U.B. books and Butcher's Spy Highseries. I've just read a few reviews that compare this book to Harry Potter, too, primarily because it involves a young boy who gets sent to a school to get trained to use his talents. I think this one has a different feel from Harry Potter, though I'm sure there will be some overlap in readers.

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