Evil Genius by Catherine Jinks
There is a lot going on in this book and it takes a while to get there, but there are sections of page-turning genius…evil page-turning genius. Cadel Piggott is a genius (particularly when it comes to computers, less so when it comes to social interactions). After graduating from high school at almost age 14, he enrolls at the Axis Institute upon the recommendation of his therapist (and sinister hottie), Thaddeus Roth. The Axis Institute is basically a school for, well, evil geniuses. There are classes in embezzlement, manipulation, bio-chemical warfare, explosions, and so on. What happens from there gets much more confusing and I don’t want to give much away, but you basically get the idea.
I was surprised by how the evil is portrayed here. I thought there would be more shades of grey. Not that there aren’t – certainly, the teachers’ backgrounds and relationships are full of just those shades. Which brings me to a little snag – the teachers are really interesting and very well fleshed-out – in fact, it feels like Jinks could write a whole book just on their backstories. I wanted to know more, but the book is really about Cadel and there just wouldn’t have been time to cover everything, but it’s nice that Jinks’ background characters feel so complete.
But back to what I was saying – the evil at the Axis Institute feels like just that. Evil. With real consequences for those involved. I was expecting evil like Artemis Fowl is evil (because, really, he is the gold standard against which all shady characters will be compared) – like he knows it’s evil, but he has a damn good reason for doing it. Axis Institute feels evil for real evil. Okay, well, not real evil, but at least James-Bond-baddie evil. That kind of take-over-the-world megalomaniac evil (seriously, some of the teachers are distinctly ominous and very shady). Which was interesting, but it means that Cadel is going to have to get out of it because we really can’t root for that kind of evil.
Which brings me to Cadel himself. I…think I liked him. He spends a lot of the book not doing a whole lot of thinking for himself, which, fair enough, is sort of the point of most of the book, but it’s not what I was expecting. And he gets caught. Again, fair enough, the person doing most of the catching is Thaddeus Roth, but still. Artemis Fowl never gets caught. Unless it’s part of a plan, of course.
But all that said, it’s really a good book – a more interesting read than one would expect and from her website, it looks like she’s already working on a sequel, Genius Squad, which I will definitely be picking up whenever it comes out because I want to see what’s next for Cadel.
My rating: B+
Ooh, quick note: This one is also fun because Cadel is supposed to be very good-looking and the other characters in the book don’t let him (or us) forget it. In fact, I was looking through it again this morning and noticed that Jinks mentions Elijah Wood in the acknowledgements for “visual inspiration,” which means she was doing something right because that’s very along the lines I was picturing. At least she has good taste!