Friday, May 16, 2008

H.I.V.E.: The Overlord Protocol by Mark Walden

In the first novel in this series, 13-year-old Otto Malpense found himself whisked off to the Higher Institute of Villainous Education after a major achievement in crime. H.I.V.E. was a sort of Hogwarts for young criminal geniuses, established to channel their abilities into skills that would let them become the sort of super-villains who sit surrounded by henchmen while stroking a white cat with a jeweled collar. Actually, at H.I.V.E. the cat with the jeweled collar is one of the teaching staff, a woman who got stuck in her cat’s body after an experiment intended to give her the grace and stalking abilities of a cat. The collar is to help her speak.

It was explained to the students that while they could commit crime by simple methods, the idea of this training was to help them do it with style. Otto made some friends: Wing Fanchu, whose parents had worked for the organization sponsoring the school, sweet Laura whose computer genius had been used to hack into the computers of the local American military base (she was only trying to find out what other girls at school were saying about her) and American girl Shelby who, at only 13, had already been an international jewel thief. There was a sort of Neville Longbottom character whose brilliance with plants nearly destroyed the school when a plant mutated and went on the rampage.

In H.I.V.E.: The Overlord Protocol, Wing is told his father has died and is allowed to go to Tokyo for the funeral, accompanied by Otto. This is, of course, only the beginning of a non-stop adventure in which something that Wing’s parents did in the past impacts on the present day. The benign school computer which had gone offline in the previous book, has been brought back, but with a new program that makes it completely unemotional. The school’s principal, Max Nero, remembers what happened the last time a computer had emotions -- the Overlord of the title.

The first book was mostly a romp, with plenty of humor and silliness. I mean, a school for villains, honestly -- including a henchman program! And a giant mutated plant stalking the school. However, despite the silly premise, in Overlord Protocol the H.I.V.E. world is starting to look a lot more grim.

The organization running H.I.V.E., known as Global League of Villainous Enterprises -- G.L.O.V.E. -- is split. Some of the members actually want to do evil take-over-the-world sort of stuff. In which case, why have an organization at all? But you don’t let down Number One, leader of the group, if you want a long life. It is at this point that we discover that Max Nero is starting to look oddly like Dumbledore. He loves his school and his students and quite frankly, he thinks the whole point of having G.L.O.V.E is to make sure that crime doesn’t get into take-over-the-world mode. He was there the day Overlord came online and was defeated by Number One. The trouble is, there are villains and villains in this novel’s world and some of them start to look like good guys. The entire story is centered around the lives and adventures of the villain community, with not a single outsider. It will be interesting to see what happens in the next book, now that Nero and his supporters are more or less good guys, while still thinking of themselves as villains!

H.I.V.E.: The Overlord Protocol is full of technology, gadgets and action. There are helicopters, martial arts and ninja robots. And in the end, Otto and his friends couldn’t save the day if they thought like good guys. But as villains go, they’re not likely to be sitting on thrones with cats to stroke either. You have to wonder how the author will manage this problem as the series goes on.

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