Harold Smithson (Suicide punishable by Death)'s Reviews > Evil Genius

Evil Genius by Catherine Jinks
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's review
May 20, 2012

it was ok
Read from May 20 to 21, 2012

The premise of Evil Genius is not something new. There have been many books in the history of literature with a similar premise. Never before, however, have I seen a book that takes the idea of a school dedicated to world domination so seriously. We're treated to mind games and conspiracies that are never once played for laughs. A friend of mine described the body count in this book as "disturbing". I don't know if I hold similar sentiments, but I do agree that the number of dead people in this book is high, which can be especially jarring when one goes into it expecting a more tongue-in-cheek work.

That and a few minor issues are why Evil Genius fails. To be clear: I have no issues with death and misery in books. I love Robert Cormier and Patrick Ness, but the difference between them and Catherine Jinks is that where their books have stories that can be taken seriously Jinks' plot is patently absurd but is treated as if it were a Dostoevsky novel. The book could have been saved had the author just taken it a little bit less seriously. When reading the book I wanted to laugh at how silly the story was until the author's serious demeanor unfortunately brought me back down to Earth.

It's even worse in the sequels, which aside from being utterly boring (Especially the second one) don't even have such an absurd premise to laugh at. They're good indicators of what Jinks wanted her books to be: Tense and serious techo-thrillers. But the tone and the subject matter are jarring in the first book and, though they fit together in the second and third book, the sequels are so boring that they're actually downgrades from the first one.

I also was not a fan of the incessant mind games being spelled out word for word. Political maneuverings and I have never had a good relationship, namely because they're extremely hard to get right. If the author explains too little one is left confused about why that particular person did that particular action. And if the author explains too much the reader is left reading page after page of exposition and explanation, leaving him or her with the impression that the author thinks little of their intelligence.

Intrigue can work in books, but it's one of the hardest aspects of literature to nail down to the point where it can carry a whole book, because you run the risk of leaving the reader in the dust or boring the poor guy with ten pages explaining why "Queen Megatron" would put that person in that chair. An even more disastrous result is that, by focusing only on the chess game that two characters are playing the author might ignore the characters themselves and end up having cardboard cutouts trying to outfox one another in a game of wits that I don't care about (Hence why Death Note dropped off in quality after (view spoiler)). The most obvious example of a failed book ruined by intrigue-focused plotting is Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins, but any one of the Ender's Shadow books by Orson Scott Card and Eon by Allison Goodman (Eon being the worst offender) also qualify as exactly what not to do. The only effective ways to handle intrigue are to 1) Have such godly writing talent that people don't mind reading page after page of exposition because the language is so good, and 2) Don't make it the main theme. Have it offset by other themes and restrict it to a side theme (Chaos Walking had political maneuvering, but it was used to show how thin the line between good and evil really was). Evil Genius, as you might have guessed, did neither.

Evil Genius has occasional moments of self-awareness where it acknowledges, albeit never for very long, that its premise deserves to be laughed at. But the other 90% of the story thinks it's The Prince.

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