by Mark Walden
Published by Allen and Unwin
304 pages, 2006
Buy it online
Villainous Behavior 101
Reviewed by Sue Bursztynski
I've heard H.I.D.E. described as "Artemis Fowl meets Hogwarts." I would agree, though I'd add there are also touches of Catherine Jinks' Evil Genius and Little Shop of Horrors, the play. It might further be added that if Hogwarts is in there anywhere, it's as if someone had written the story from the viewpoint of Draco Malfoy; the hero's name is Otto Malpense ("bad thought" as opposed to "bad faith") and he even has white hair like Draco's. There are also two characters called Block and Tackle who might be Crabbe and Goyle if the latter were Draco's enemies instead of his henchmen. There's even a klutzy Neville Longbottom-type character who nearly destroys the school with his "herbology" skills.
Imagine a school full of Artemis Fowls: children of genius who have used their talents to commit crimes. There's a sweet Scottish girl who had used the local American base's nuclear early-warning system to listen in to her school enemies discussing her on their mobile phones. There's an American girl, only 13, who has already built a promising career as a jewel thief. And there's the hero, Otto, who succeeded in overthrowing the British Prime Minister via public embarrassment, in order to keep his orphanage open.
These children and others have been swept up and brought to H.I.V.E. (Higher Institute of Villainous Education), a huge school for future world dominators and their henchmen, on an uncharted island. The headmaster, Dr. Nero, reports to a mysterious figure known as Number One who is only ever seen in silhouette on screen. The teachers range from a dotty professor to a white cat of the Blofeld's-pet variety who is actually a woman trapped in an animal's body by accident by the dotty professor while attempting to give her the cat's qualities. Well, that's what he claims, anyway. I think the mind/body exchange will be important in future volumes of this series, of which more presently.
The argument given to the students for their studies is that villains get the best clothes and the best lines, thus who wouldn't rather be the villain than the good guy? When a student asks the reasonable question of why villains do everything in such a complex way, Dr. Nero agrees that they could just zap everyone without having to resort to a space station, for example, but when you're a first-class villain, you have to do everything with style. (Pity the villain of Austin Powers didn't think of this response).
Otto wants out. So do his friends, Laura the Scottish girl, the American girl, Shelby, and Otto's room mate, Wing Fanchu. They plot their escape together. But things aren't as simple as they think. And there are things Otto doesn't know about why he is so special to Number One that Dr. Nero has been ordered to keep an eye on him and make sure nothing happens to him. Nero doesn't know why, either, but in this job, you can expect a lot worse than being on the unemployment line if you fail the boss.
By the end of H.I.V.E., it is clear that this is the first in a series; a lot of loose ends haven't been tied and the last line implies future sequels. Based on hints thrown out in the novel, my bet is that Otto will turn out to be Number One's clone and that Number One wants to take over his body at some stage. However, this is only the first book and my guess shouldn't keep you from reading it or giving it to your children to read -- they will probably not pick up on the hints, and I might be wrong.
You also wonder whether it's wise to educate all those future villains, since they will undoubtedly compete with each other and could wipe out the world in doing so. And why, anyway? What's the point? Still, you have to suspend disbelief in this matter. It's worth it.
There's plenty of humor and plenty of adventure here and while some characters are over-the-top, the main characters are generally likable and you do hope they will succeed. In the end, a good story and characters you can care about are the most important elements of a good novel. | December 2006
Sue Bursztynski is the author of several children's books, including the CBC Notable Book Potions To Pulsars: Women Doing Science and Your Cat Could Be A Spy. Her fiction has been published in various SF magazines. She publishes two blogs, a general one at http://greatraven.blogspot.com and a review/SF blog at http://suebursztynski.blogspot.com. She lives in Australia.