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Monday, January 10, 2011

H.I.V.E; Zero Hour. By Mark Walden. London, Bloomsbury, 2010

In the first novel of this series, H.I.V.E: Higher Institute of Villainous Education, we met Otto Malpense, a computer genius who also had the uncanny power of connecting with computers, who found himself in H.I.V.E, a sort of Hogwarts for training super-villains, after showing his skills by making the Prime Minister drop his trousers on national television. There, he meets other young criminal geniuses who become his friends. The original novel was very funny indeed, throwing in cheeky references to spy movies, such as the white cat with a jewelled collar that sits in the villain’s lap; at H.I.V.E, the white cat is one of the teachers, who had been trapped in her cat’s body by accident, and the jewelled collar is her communication device. The “Neville Longbottom” character created a giant plant that almost ate the school.

As the novels continued, the humour mostly disappeared, to be replaced by straight action adventure with a speculative fiction twist. The main villain of the series was an AI called Overlord, which had gotten out of control and wanted to take over the world. We did eventually find out why Otto had those abilities and in the last book, H.I.V.E: Rogue, Otto was taken by the enemy and taken over for most of the story.

In this latest offering, the baddies – and you have to remember that everyone in this series is technically a baddie – take over the school and scatter the council of GLOVE, the organisation governing the “good” baddies who just want to make lots of money, not rule the world. They take hostages at a secret American military base and start issuing orders to the president. Now Otto, his friends Laura, Lucy, Shelby and Wing and the school’s headmaster, Max Nero, are on the run, fortunately in a fabulous piece of technology called Megalodon, trying to stop Overlord, who has demanded Otto as part of the price of releasing those hostages. If Overlord wins this time, everyone in the world will be taken over. But Max Nero has one ace left up his sleeve – something known as Zero Hour, planned years ago…

I suppose I can see why the over-the-top humour was dropped after the first novel, apart from the occasional amusing scene. The point had been made and after that, it wouldn’t work any more. The story wasn’t finished. So the direction changed and the last few books, this one included, are more like the many action-adventures being written for teenagers in recent years. This series is likely to appeal to teens who have been reading Anthony Horowitz’s Alex Rider novels and Charlie Higson’s Young James Bond books. There is an appendix at the end, which invites readers to find out for which stream of H.I.V.E they would be suitable, then whether they have what it takes to be a super-villain anyway. I got into the Political/Financial Stream, but wasn’t quite villainous for the big time.

The series has gotten to the point where books can't be read stand-alone, so read the others first. It's worth the effort.

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