H.I.V.E.: The Higher Institute of Villainous Education -- Mark Walden

The kids on the cover?  Totally the kids in the book, right down to the hair color and poses.  But we wouldn't expect less from Adam Rex, right?

One day, thirteen-year-old Otto Malpense wakes up, head pounding and completely disoriented, in a helicopter that he doesn't remember boarding.

If that isn't strange enough, moments later, the helicopter then enters a smoking volcano. 

HiveOtto has just entered H.I.V.E:

"Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to your new home."  He gestured to the stone walls of the cavern that surrounded them.  "Your lives as you once knew them are over," he continued.  "You have been selected, all of you--the worst, the most cunning, the most mischievous minds from around the world--selected to become part of an institution like no other.  You have all exhibited certain unique abilities, abilities that set you apart from the mediocrity of the teeming masses and that mark you out as the leaders of tomorrow.  Here, in this place, you will be furnished with the knowledge and experience to best exploit your own natural abilities, to hone your craft to a cutting edge."

He paused and slowly surveyed the pale, wide-eyed faces before him.

"Each of you has within you a rare quality, a gift if you will, a special talent for the supremely villainous.  Society would have us believe that this is an undesirable characteristic, something that should be subdued, controlled, destroyed.  But not here... no, here we want to see you blossom in all that you can be, to see your innate wickedness flourish, to make you the very worst that you can be."

Sound familiar?  There's more:  Otto, like Cadel Piggott, grows up as an orphan.  Otto, like Cadel, is sponsored by the Super Big Bad.  And Otto, like Cadel, isn't so sure he's into this whole Eeeeevil thing.  H.I.V.E. is even set up similarly to the Axis Institute, with separate tracks for Alphas (leaders), Henchmen and others -- but H.I.V.E. takes things one step further than Axis, by kidnapping its students and holding them prisoner*.

H.I.V.E. is not nearly as dark as Evil Genius, though, and a much quicker read**.  People will either read it as (glass half empty) a cliche-ridden amalgam of a number of other popular books OR (glass half full) as a spoof.  I read it as a spoof and really enjoyed it. 

Regardless of what spin you put on it, there's a lot you'll be familiar with -- certain Super Spy Character Types pop up (like the Impassive Asian Martial Arts Expert and the Beautiful Russian Assassin and the Dangerous Man with White Streaks at his Temples and the Unnamed Big Bad Who Sticks to the Shadows), there's a professor who will remind you of HP's McGonagall, a student who will remind you of HP's Neville Longbottom, and a science project that will remind you of Audrey II.  When Otto introduces himself for the first time, he says, "Malpense... Otto Malpense."

My only complaint is that I HATE (hate hate hate) the font that each chapter begins with -- I think they were going for a Secret Document Look, but I found it distracting that the commas and the periods look almost exactly the same.  I read a review copy, though, so it might look different in the real book.

It's fun, a good pick for fans of Artemis Fowl, Alex Rider and the Spy High books.  The H.I.V.E. program runs for six years, so I assume that there'll be five more books.  Oh, and word of warning: the book definitely reads like the first in a series -- lots of mysteries are left unsolved, lots of loose ends are left... loose.

*Basically.  They aren't allowed call home -- or to leave.

**It's two hundred pages shorter, for one thing, and more about the action than the character development.