Evil Genius, by Catherine Jinks

Catherine Jinks’s novel Evil Genius opens with a list of the classes offered at the Axis Institute. Students can sign up for “Applied Physics”, “Cultural Appreciation”, or “Pragmatic Philosophy”. There’s even a wholesome-sounding offering entitled “Coping Skills”. It looks a lot like any other class list... or it would, if someone hadn’t crossed out the official class names and written in more accurate descriptions: “Applied Physics” turns into “Explosives”, “Cultural Appreciation” becomes “Forgery”, and “Coping Skills” is really “Basic Lying”.

The main character of Evil Genius is a baby-faced teenager named Cadel Piggott, a boy with a sky-high IQ, a fascination with systems of all kinds, and all the warmth and charm of a dead fish. At the suggestion of his Svengali-esque psychologist, Dr. Thaddeus Roth, Cadel signs up for the Axis Institute. Cadel's busily acquiring criminal mastermind skills when he meets a mysterious and brilliant woman online. He tumbles into love—but slowly begins to realize that being the star student of a school taught and attended by psychopaths might not be the best way of recommending himself to a normal (if unusually smart) young lady.

Evil Genius opens like an Artemis Fowl-style action/comedy, but it's much darker than Eoin Colfer’s series. The staff and students at Axis initially seem pretty cartoonish (imagine a school run by Dr. Evil), but become increasingly sinister. There’s a particularly disturbing scene where a teacher attacks a teenager in the girls’ bathroom, and the students soon discover that they really, really don’t want to get caught cheating.

Jinks’s book has a solid hook, an unusual main character, and displays considerable imagination. On the other hand, the pacing is uneven, it’s about fifty pages too long, and one wonders how young readers are going to react to some of its creepier elements. Evil Genius ends with several plot threads left unresolved, tantalizing us with the possibility of a sequel. Hopefully the next book won't feature another meet-cute opening or tongue-in-cheek title. Evil Genius is a page-turner, and we're eager to read more of Cadel’s story, but Jinks's book is much more serious than its “I’m a rollicking good time!” packaging suggests.
Posted by: Julia, Last edit by: Julianka


No comments yet. Be the first!

No new comments are allowed on this post.