by Catherine Jinks
Even at the age of seven, Cadel Piggott has the makings of an evil genius. His psychologist, Thaddeus Roth, spots it right away. Cadel's adoptive parents think he is getting counseling to cope with social adjustment problems; after all, the boy is hurtling through grade after grade, advancing ahead of students his age. But actually, Dr. Roth is encouraging Cadel to use his gifts to study systems, exploit their weaknesses, and bring them down.
Cadel's path of destruction begins with the Sydney rail system, then the roads. Soon he is sabotaging the social structure of his high school class. But it's all child's play until, at age 14, he has to choose a college. He chooses the Axis Institute, a program designed specially for Cadel by Dr. Roth and Cadel's biological father, the evil Phineas Darkkon, who has been pulling strings for the boy from a prison cell. The Axis Institute is so small that it offers only one degree program: World Domination.
Surrounded by people studying assassination, biological warfare, forgery, embezzlement, misinformation, and the philosophy of pure evil, Cadel focuses his studies on computer science (a.k.a. infiltration). Worming his way into the computer files of the faculty and staff, Cadel finds out a lot about the motives of the bizarre and creepy people around him. By the time he realizes that he's just not evil enough to belong there, there seems to be no way out. No way, that is, except to bring the whole place down.
Cadel is a fascinating subject. Misguided from an early age, trained to accept crime on a massive scale as normal behavior, even brainwashed to believe that the survival of mankind depends on people like him seizing power, he nevertheless remains human, vulnerable, and basically decent. The spark of conscience in him, the capacity to love and a desire to be loved in return, grow and grow until he sees no choice but to escape from the clutches of his father, Dr. Roth, and the sinister staff of the Institute.
But he doesn't know his own strength, or his potential to do great harm without meaning to. When Cadel decides to blow a hole in the Axis Institue big enough to escape through, he sets off a conflagration even he did not foresee. The resulting carnage is both shocking and, at the same time, obscenely funny. It's the kind of dark comedy that may appeal to fans of Edward Bloor's Story Time, served up with an ironic, upside-down view of right and wrong reminiscent of Artemis Fowl. The only magic in it, however, is the magic of technology, the power of love, the strength of desperation, and the explosive effect of long-kept secrets revealed at just the right time. For more of the same, you may be interested in the sequel, Genius Squad. Jinks is the author of many other novels, including most recently The Reformed Vampire Support Group.
St. Louis, USA
Recommended Age: 14+
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