About a quarter of the way through Evil Genius I was pretty sure I had it sussed: a dark parody of the Harry Potter series. By then titular genius Cadel Piggott, who by early adolescence is well down the path leading to an eventual Antisocial Personality Disorder diagnosis, has been packed off to the Axis Institute, a supposed reform school that (as the book’s endpapers have already revealed by exposing its course catalog, with class topics like “embezzlement”) is actually a college of evil, with an array of teachers and students with names slightly less storybookish than “Severus Snape.” I was a little impatient with the quantity of backstory and exposition, but I liked Jinks’ The Reformed Vampire Support Group more than enough to hang in and see how things developed. I figured Piggot either would or wouldn’t have an eventual moral awakening, and I suspected a big reveal about the institute, like maybe it was a big experiment in reverse psychology.
I wasn’t a hundred percent wrong, but almost. Jinks quickly downplayed the Potterisms, and Evil Genius became the most suspenseful young adult novel I’ve ever read, bar none. The way the tension kept ratcheting up and the pervasively paranoiac atmosphere reminded me of no one so much as Patricia Highsmith. I could usually tell when something was about to go horribly wrong, but seldom guessed exactly what it was; once it really got cranking, Evil Genius held me riveted right up to the last page.
Also like Highsmith, I thought Jinks did a good job of keep the reader’s sympathy with Piggot, even when he’s undertaking not particularly pleasant pursuits. In fact, some of Piggot’s less lovable behavior struck a little close to the bone, reminding me of how being picked on in my own adolescence sparked some grandiose revenge fantasies. I wonder if many of the people who eventually grow up to be novelists and/or volunteer critics on the Interwebs — not to mention readers drawn to a book where the bad guys are at least nominally the protagonists — might not have had some similar dark thoughts at one point or another.
Evil Genius additionally impressed me because its smart people consistently really sound smart (if twisted). It’s sprinkled with mentions of mathematics, chemistry, and, particularly, computer hacking topics that are much more credible than the usual fictional depiction.
One the negative side, near the end I had trouble keeping track of all the crosses and double-crosses — but then again, many of the characters were in the same bind.
needs more demons? no.