Higher Institute of Villainous Education (2006), The Overlord Protocol (2007), Escape Velocity (2008), Dreadnaught (2009), Rogue (2010), Zero Hour (2010), Aftershock (2011)
Published by Bloomsbury
H.I.V.E. is the Higher Institute for Villainous Education. It is run by Dr. Nero, a benevolent but sinister autocrat, feared and ruthless, yes, but very much the-devil-you-know. Imagine Dumbledore crossed with Snape and then add in a sprinkle each of Principal Snyder, Miss Hannigan and the Demon Headmaster. Then factor in trap doors under which there are sharks.
H.I.V.E. is a school to which the world’s criminally gifted children are remanded, often by their parents, often just a few steps ahead of the law, but to which few of them take kindly. One of the more reluctant students to attend this secret place of learning is Otto Malpense, a prodigy of mysterious origins in whom Number One, the head of H.I.V.E.’s umbrella organization, G.L.O.V.E. (Global League of Villainous Enterprises) — Walden loves him some acronyms — seems to have a particular interest, though no one knows why.
He makes himself some friends early on: gravity-defying martial artist, Wing; computer hacker and mild Otto love interest, Laura; internationally renowned teen catburglar, Shelby; Franz and Nigel, two seeming losers who yet always manage to have something to contribute to the plot; and later in the books, Lucy, who… well, no. Let’s not dwell too much on Lucy.
At first, of course, all of Otto’s considerable energies and truly frightening skills are thrown into the task of escaping his captor’s control, but he soon seems to develop a kind of villainous Stockholm Syndrome, deciding not to leave H.I.V.E. after all because they know his back story.
Much adventuresome hilarity ensues.
The most memorable and, to me, funniest part of the perplexingly lauded Austin Powers movies is in the first one. You know the part, that slow-motion steamroller heads for a then-nameless lackey of Dr. Evil, squashes him flat, and then his Mom receives the news of his death: “People never think how things affect the family of the henchman,” she sighs.
At H.I.V.E., the henchmen (henchpeople?) form a part of a separate educational stream, where their general lack of initiative and often brutish strength are rewarded. Alongside these are the Leadership, or Alpha Stream (to which Otto and most of his friends, of course, belong) classes, which include such fascinating subjects as Villainy Studies, Tactical Education and Stealth and Evasion. There’s also a Political/Financial Stream for students of economic manipulation, and a Technical Stream for developers of evil gadgetry – the school even boasts its own Death Ray Test Range.
The first book mostly just sets all of this up, and sees Otto and co. attempt a daring escape, with not entirely successful results. (Obviously.) The second book in the series, The Overlord Protocol, is a much more confronting outing, with Adult Themes aplenty; the death of a main character early on and the internecine politicking of the members of G.L.O.V.E. take us to a whole new level, and can be a little… confusing, to an adult reader. It’s a little like The Phantom Menace’s confusion as to what it wants to be: coming of age kids’ flick, or tense political thriller? Much like those interminable Senate scenes, the G.L.O.V.E. stuff all seems a little out of place, a little beyond the tale’s nominal scope. But for an alleged adult such as myself, the murky motives of the international cabal of bad guys is very interesting indeed, even if it’s difficult to tell, at times, just where our allegiances should lie. And in later books, when the anti-terrorist organization H.O.P.E comes into things and even goes so far as to kidnap Nero, it’s difficult to know whose side to be on.
And also difficult to know… are these really kids’ books?
It’s always hard to judge a book intended for a very different demographic. That is not to say that interests cannot be vast and eclectic — witness some of the odder juxtapositions on my alphabetized book shelf, like Proust alongside my extensive collection of Powerpuff Girls chapter books — but often a children’s book, like a children’s movie, cannot be judged by adult standards. I mean, why do kids love that so-called classic picture book Love You Forever? Me, I find it the tale of a creepy and obsessed woman who stalks her son throughout his life, driving across town and frequently breaking into his room at night just to watch him sleep. Ew. (And people thought it objectionable when Edward Cullen did it.) But I’ve never met a kid, between the ages of pre-school and middle school, who didn’t love it.
So, is H.I.V.E. (and more particularly, its sequels) a book that will appeal to its target market? I can’t say. I know I like it a lot myself as an adult — except for the distracting, hard to read and unnecessary CAPITALIZED CHANGE IN FONT at the beginning of each chapter — and I think I would have liked it in my distant youth. But then, I like Get Smart a crazy lot, and H. I. V. E. has more than a little of the tongue-in-cheek KAOS about it. Except, in this version, Siegfried is kind of one of the good guys.
Uh. I think?
“Once again, Mr. Malpense, I find myself unsure whether I should report you to Dr. Nero or commend you.” They all knew, after all, that leveling accusations of cheating at H.I.V.E. as rather missing the point.
— The Overlord Protocol (2007)