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Debra Hamel is the mother of two preternaturally attractive girls and the author of a number of books about ancient Greece. She writes and blogs from her subterranean lair in North Haven, CT. Read more.


Books by Debra Hamel:

THE BATTLE OF ARGINUSAE :
VICTORY AT SEA AND ITS TRAGIC AFTERMATH IN THE FINAL YEARS OF THE PELOPONNESIAN WAR
By Debra Hamel


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KILLING ERATOSTHENES:
A TRUE CRIME STORY
FROM ANCIENT ATHENS
By Debra Hamel


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READING HERODOTUS:
A GUIDED TOUR THROUGH THE WILD BOARS, DANCING SUITORS, AND CRAZY TYRANTS OF THE HISTORY
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THE MUTILATION OF THE HERMS:
UNPACKING AN ANCIENT MYSTERY
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TRYING NEAIRA:
THE TRUE STORY OF A COURTESAN'S SCANDALOUS LIFE IN ANCIENT GREECE
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SOCRATES AT WAR:
THE MILITARY HEROICS OF AN ICONIC INTELLECTUAL
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ANCIENT GREEKS IN DRAG:
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IT WAS A DARK AND STORMY TWEET:
FIVE HUNDRED 1ST LINES IN 140 CHARACTERS OR LESS
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PRISONERS OF THE PELOPONNESIAN WAR
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Jinks, Catherine: Evil Genius

  Amazon  

3.5 stars

You'd think that a book about a 14-year-old boy studying for his World Domination degree at an institution dedicated to evil would have a cartoonish, Austin Powers-y charm to it. That's what I was expecting from Catherine Jinks's Evil Genius, at least: a world in which evil masterminds plot destruction with unnecessarily complicated gadgets and over-explain themselves to ostensibly doomed good guys. But it's not that sort of book.

Cadel Piggot is a genius with a penchant for causing trouble. His adoptive parents--who aren't around much and are unsupportive when they are--acting on the advice of the authorities, bring Cadel to a psychologist, Dr. Thaddeus Roth, when he is seven years old. Thaddeus soon comes to be the dominant influence in Cadel's life. He trains his young protege to harness his intellect in socially unacceptable ways. Cadel's particular skill lies in being able to easily understand and manipulate complex systems--the rail system, the freeways, the interaction of human groups. Eventually Cadel becomes expert at influencing people, without their knowledge, so that they'll act in accordance with his wishes. (This is difficult to explain, but perhaps you remember that in Silence of the Lambs Hannibal Lecter, another evil genius, was able to convince the inmate of a neighboring cell to kill himself by swallowing his own tongue. That is the sort of thing Cadel Piggot might be able to do should he set his mind to it.) After speeding through the middle school and high school curricula, Cadel enters Australia's Axis Institute, where founder Phineas Darkkon has collected a small coterie of evil-minded students with unusual talents. The grand scheme is a sinister one: the improvement of society through the advancement of a class of genetically superior individuals.

Far from cartoonish, Catherine Jinks's Evil Genius is rather a dark, even disturbing read. There is the casual cruelty of the Institute, the occasional disappearances, the constant surveillance and resulting paranoia, the encouragement of lying and cheating (provided one doesn't get caught), the general rejection of societal mores. Cadel, too, while pitiable, is not the most likeable of heros, at least not at first: he has in essence been trained from birth to be a sociopath, and he suffers few pangs of conscience for his acts. His character evolves in the book, but his story remains an unpleasant one.

Evil Genius can be slow going in parts: Cadel's progression through school prior to entering the Institute is described at length and is rather boring. But the book becomes increasingly interesting as the truth about Cadel's predicament becomes clearer to him, and as his innate sense of morality asserts itself. The goings-on within the Institute--various back stabbings and plots--would be easier to follow if a list or diagram of the various characters and their relationships were provided. I eventually gave up caring about one or two sub-plots. But the book is certainly an unusual read, likely to spark interesting discussions--on the subjectivity of evil and moral relativism, for example--if used in a classroom setting.

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