At age seven, Cadel Piggott was caught hacking into the power grid and a bill-paying service. Though his adoptive parents have never paid much attention to him, they do act on the suggestion the police make: Get Cadel to a psychologist.
Dr. Thaddeus Roth is not quite what the Piggotts had expected -- but, being supremely self-centered and whatnot, they brush any concerns aside and leave Cadel alone with him. Once they've left the room, it becomes very clear indeed to that Dr. Thaddeus Roth is not your average psychologist:
"I'll make a deal with you, Cadel," said Thaddeus. "Can you keep a secret?"
Solemnly, Cadel nodded.
"Good. Then this is what we'll do. If you don't tell your parents about it, I'll let you use my computer whenever you come here. Does that sound good??
Again, Cadel nodded.
"And all I ask in return is this." The corner of Thaddeus's mouth rose, revealing one yellowish, pointed canine tooth. Through the lenses of his spectacles, his eyes were as black as a snake's. His voice dropped to a throaty whisper. "Next time," he murmured, "whatever you do, don't get caught."
A year later, Thaddeus informs Cadel of his true heritage -- his biological father is Phineas Darkkon, sentenced to life in prison for various offenses, not the least of which involved threatening the world with a retrovirus that would wipe out all "junk human beings" from the world. Darkkon's brilliance allows him to stay in contact with Thaddeus and Cadel through a DNA-wired transmitter*.
An outcast at school and ignored at home, Thaddeus and Darkkon are Cadel's only supporters, mentors and friends for the next seven years. Well, almost only. He also develops an on-line relationship with a young and mathematically brilliant nurse named Kay-Lee.
When he graduates high school at the age of thirteen, Thaddeus convinces the Piggotts to send Cadel to the Axis Institute.
And that's where the fun begins:
When he loaded the program, he discovered an alternative course handbook for the Axis Institute--and it wasn't the kind of thing you'd want falling into the hands of your parents. With growing astonishment Cadel discovered the real names of the institute's schools and departments. It seemed that the School of Deception offered not computer science, psychology, media studies and accounting, but infiltration, manipulation, misinformation, and embezzlement. The School of Organic Perversion ran courses on contagion and mutations (both genetic and radiation-induced). The School of Destruction covered explosives, assassination (including poisoning), guerrilla skills, and something called Personal Growth.
Overall, I loved it. I just didn't want to put it down**. There were a few plot twists that I saw coming, but far more that surprised me -- in fact, towards the end it got so convoluted that a second reading (and maybe some charts) might be necessary to get it all straight. Just keeping all of the names straight was a challenge, to be honest.
Though there is a lot of action and excitement and the chapters aren't terribly long, this isn't necessarily one for reluctant readers -- as I've said, it takes work. And I did occasionally find myself skimming at times -- usually because I was just excited and was eager to see What Happened Next, but I did find it a wee bit long in some parts.
As a character, Cadel is FAR more interesting than Artemis Fowl. Unlike AF, who seemed to me like a cardboard cutout of a person, Cadel is complex and multi-layered. Evil Genius is about morality and manipulation -- but never fear! There's still plenty of mayhem.
I'd say it'd be a good match for kids who like Artemis Fowl, James Bond, Alex Rider and other thriller-y type books. I think it'll do well with some Harry Potter fans, as well. I'm not saying that it's a read-alike, mind you -- just that some HP fans will enjoy it.
*Don't ask me, man. I'm not an Evil Genius.
**And was a huge crab when Josh came home from work and you know, actually wanted to go out and DO something. I suspect that I am a hard person to live with.