If you kidnapped the world’s most mischeivous, cunning teenagers and imprisoned them at a secret training academy for supervillains, what would happen?
That’s the shamelessly ridiculous premise of Mark Walden’s H.I.V.E. (which stands for Higher Institute of Villainous Education) and if you can suspend your disbelief far enough, you will find it a rewarding read. The dialogue is witty, the plot twists deft, and the setting inventive, with plenty of knowing nods to the comic books and Bond films which pioneered the supervillain tropes. (The school is built within a volcano and features special classes for henchmen.)
Walden has strong feel for clichés, and delights in using them to turn the reader’s expectations upside-down. The skinny, dimwitted blonde is revealed to be more devious than any of her fellow students. The cold, katana-wielding Japanese boy turns out to be not an enemy but a friend. But the book’s real strength is the protagonist, Otto Malpense, whose back story is exposed in teasing fragments and whose plan to escape from H.I.V.E. is the engine that drives the story at a cracking pace.
When my own writing is described as cinematic, I struggle to take it as a compliment, since films tend to be more superficial than books. They lack smells, tastes, themes and thoughts. With its flashy set-pieces and costumes, H.I.V.E. sometimes does feel like a movie rather than a novel. But it’s such a good movie that it doesn’t matter, so I’d recommend it to anyone who thought Hogwarts lacked gadgetry.