~by Catherine Jinks
The first thing I though when I saw Catherine Jinks' Evil Genius was, "Ooo! Shiny!" Because, well, it was. The cover of the mass market edition is this marvelous metallic crimson that no computer screen can really capture. I quite liked the artwork on the spine, too. The second thing I thought to myself was, "We evil geniuses (much like evil librarians) need to stick together; I should take this book home with me." And so I did. Evil Genius was first published in Australia in 2005, not making it to the United States until two years later. I'm not sure that I've read a book by an Australian author before, so discovering that was an added bonus. The book is also rather thick, a trend that seems to be becoming more common in the young adult section, but even so Evil Genius has some heft to it. And small print. You get a lot of bang for your buck. And there is also at least one sequel to look forward to, Genius Squad.
Simply put, Cadel Piggott is a genius. He has a particular affinity for computer networks and other complex systems, a fact that has been getting him into trouble from a very young age. His adoptive parents don't know what to do with him and so send him to therapy as a last resort. There, Cadel thrives under the tutelage of his therapist Thadeus Roth--right-hand man to one of the world's most malicious criminal masterminds, Phineas Darkkon who claims Cadel as his son. Enrolling in the Axis Institute for World Domination with his father's encouragement, Cadel will begin to hone his mind even further and gain skills befitting Darkon's heir. But it's when Cadel changes his mind about wanting to be part of Darkkon's schemes that things really get interesting.
One of the things that initially made me pick up Evil Genius (besides an appealing cover and title) was the inclusion of Cadel's course list list inside the cover. Seeing the differences between what the classes were called and what was actually being studied was a great way to set the mood for the novel ("Psychology" for Manipulation, "Microbiology" for Contagion, "Pragmatic Philosophy" for Pure Evil, etc.). Evil Genius comes awfully close to the superhero sub-genre (not that that is a bad thing) but I don't think I would necessarily describe it as such. Although there are a few notable exceptions, no one really has superpowers and most everyone is fairly "normal," albeit pretty twisted and maybe even a bit criminally insane. The few superhero elements there are could probably be removed without too much damage done to the plot's integrity since so much of it is based in reality.
The pacing in Evil Genius fluctuates quite a bit--at times it moves along at a good clip while at other times it crawls--but Jinks managed to never lose my interest. I will say though, I definitely felt the book's length. Which is not to say that I didn't enjoy it, because I most certainly did, but someone with a shorter attention span might have a problem. One of the things I particularly enjoyed about the book was Cadel. Even though he is completely lacking in a moral compass, he's really a good kid when it comes down to it. Well, for the most part anyways. I like my characters with a bit of ambiguity. Plus, he's intelligent (if a bit naive) which is a nice antidote to some of the more vapid and shallow characters that seem to be prominent in YA lit right now. While Cadel was the most fleshed out and complete of all the characters, which makes sense as it's his story, most of the others had a decent amount of substance to them as well--even if I did find most everyone's names ridiculous. But then, perhaps that, in addition to the dark humor, was part of the book's charm. Overall, I found Evil Genius to be a fun read. Even though written for a younger audience, I think it would be most appreciated by adults. Either way, I do know that I will be picking up Genius Squad.