Cadel Piggott doesn’t really fit in. His genius IQ and his peculiar obsessions seem strange to his classmates. He’s not a malicious child, but his boredom drives him to challenge himself by hacking into computers and designing intricate pranks. It doesn’t help that his parents are constantly busy and don’t spend any time with him. The only person who really seems to care about Cadel is Dr. Thaddeus Roth, his psychologist. Thaddeus even encourages Cadel’s obsessions and pranks. As Cadel gets older, Thaddeus gradually starts to reveal why he’s interested in the boy — he wants to enroll him in Dr. Phineas Darkkon’s special school: The Axis Institute for World Domination.
Evil Genius, the first in a series of novels by Catherine Jinks, starts out with a delightfully mischievous sense of humor as we watch Cadel studying traffic patterns and bus schedules so he can play clever tricks on his classmates and teachers. The first part of the novel is fascinating and amusing and this lasts for about 100 pages (out of 500) because there’s a long build-up before Cadel goes off to Dr. Darkkon’s school.
However, as soon as Cadel gets to the school, the tone of the novel shifts abruptly and becomes incredibly dark and disturbing. I suppose it’s not surprising that the teachers and students at the Axis Institute are hateful, treacherous, and murderous, but Jinks’ tone had been much lighter until that point and the sudden shift to shocking and dreadful was incongruent with the first 20% of the novel. I had been chuckling happily with my kids until then and I knew that Cadel would be going off to Dr. Evil School, but based on the cover art and the first 100 pages, I had assumed that this would be a rather light treatment of such an institution. Wrong! Once we got to school, I felt like I’d suddenly been slammed into one of Cadel’s firewalls.
This shift in tone was an issue for me, but that’s not Catherine Jinks’ fault. There’s no rule that an author can’t abruptly change the tone of her novel, and it’s even possible that my misunderstanding of the tone was influenced by the audio version I was listening to (which is wonderfully narrated by Justine Eyre). Other readers, especially if they’re warned, will probably welcome the shift.
But I had another issue with Evil Genius. Toward the end of the novel, at which point I passionately hated almost every character in the book, the plot twisted and flip-flopped and did all sorts of strenuous acrobatics which made the horror drag on much longer and more confusingly than it needed to. It was torturous.
However, there were some bright spots peeking out of the darkness of Evil Genius. The writing and character development are excellent. Cadel’s relationship with a girl he gets to know over the Internet is perhaps the most touching YA relationship I’ve ever read. Also, Jinks gives us some things to think about in Evil Genius. For example, she shows us that our own negligent or even well-intentioned actions can have consequences that make our behaviors seem evil to others.
Catherine Jinks set out to do something original and unexpected in Evil Genius, and she accomplished that. Most of my experience with Evil Genius was unpleasant, but that’s due to my personal taste, not to Ms. Jinks’ skills.
Evil Genius — (2007-2009) Young Adult. Publisher: Cadel Piggott has a genius IQ and a fascination with systems of all kinds. At seven, he was illegally hacking into computers. Now he’s fourteen and studying for his World Domination degree, taking classes like embezzlement, forgery, and infiltration at the institute founded by criminal mastermind Dr. Phineas Darkkon. Although Cadel may be advanced beyond his years, at heart he’s a lonely kid. When he falls for the mysterious and brilliant Kay-Lee, he begins to question the moral implications of his studies. But is it too late to stop Dr. Darkkon from carrying out his evil plot?