Friday, July 18, 2008

HIVE: Higher Institute of Villainous Education by Mark Walden

So where do all the supervillains of the world come from? Really! How do the likes of Lex Luthor and the Joker and Dr. Doom and Lord Voldemort come up with these schemes? Oh sure, the history of each is well documented within their respective books or comics of origin, but honestly, can we really believe each is capable of developing their nefarious skills without formal training? That they can simply become the full embodiment of evil without a little "polishing" along the way?

Maybe. But had they displayed such reprehensible behavior as youngsters, it is highly unlikely they would have escaped the watchful eye of the Higher Institute of Villainous Education. And had they been enrolled at H.I.V.E., due to the school’s secrecy, Superman and Batman and the Fantastic Four and Harry Potter (heck, even Dumbledore) would never had known.

H.I.V.E. is a school created to guide the immensely talented on the road from petty crime to true villainy. Otto Malpense got their attention. His stunt with the Prime Minister of England got everyone’s attention, but only H.I.V.E. recognized that Otto was the brain behind the scheme. Likewise, Otto’s future roommate, Wing Fanchu, and numerous other youngsters have shown great potential in the realm of supervillainy. Each has been enrolled at H.I.V.E., an immense fortress located inside a remote island, for a six year education. Once selected, enrollment is nonnegotiable. Students don’t leave H.I.V.E. midstream.

And this is what bugs Otto. Sure, the education he will receive is interesting. His first day’s class schedule includes Deathtraps: Their Use and Care, Effective Threats, Elementary Evil, Global Domination: What You Need to Know!, and A Beginner’s Guide to Doomsday Weapons. But all of that doesn’t outweigh the fact that Otto is a prisoner. He has been given no choice in the matter. Wing agrees, as do other classmates, which leads to a plot no students, let alone first-years, have ever accomplished.

Escape from H.I.V.E.

Their plot is secretly put into motion, but as most plots, especially those conceived by villains, there are snags. Otto, Wing, and their accomplices handle them all. There is one snag, however, that takes both teachers and students by surprise, demanding everyone’s immediate attention.

The school is amazing. A vast underground cavern with gadgets James Bond (and Alex Rider) would admire, technology beyond what the world knows, and weapons so advanced they keep the “conventional” weapons in storage. There are four streams of education: Henchman, Technical, Political/Financial, and Alpha. Otto is in the Alpha stream, designed for leadership and strategy training.

The staff at H.I.V.E. represents a cross section of villainy. Dr. Nero is the devious leader who always knows more than he lets on. Contessa Sinistre, complete with long cigarette holder and Italian accent, has a sickly sweet voice that reveals her slight irritation when questions are not to her liking. Raven is the virtually invisible assassin who stealthily patrols the halls of the institute.

It’s been a while since I’ve read a book that got my attention like this one. The action is nonstop, the setting is fascinating, and the devious double-crosses and characters’ secrets will keep readers guessing. (Of course! They’re all villains! Who can you trust?)

Other books in the series: The Overlord Protocol and Escape Velocity (upcoming).

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