Like a Velvet Glove Cast in Iron

AftershockHere we are on the seventh volume of author Mark Walden’s ongoing superspy/supervillain series. And for the most part, despite some nitpicking, we’ve enjoyed each outing so far. The kids at the Higher Institute of Villainous Education are a scrappy and likeable bunch. And when they graduate, we have no doubt they will rule the world like a velvet glove cast in iron.

It’s ironic, however, that our favorite characters in this H.I.V.E. series are the grownups. Don’t get us wrong. We like Otto Malpense, the human computer, Franz Argentblum, the newly christened “ninja assassin,” and all the rest of the teenage gang. But the adults provide the conflict that propels the series forward. And, more importantly, they provide the backstory that gives everything context. The kids are awesome, but at this point they’re only reacting to the evil machinations of the Global League of Villainous Enterprises.

Our three favorite characters include: Diabolus Darkdoom, the infamous criminal mastermind who rules the seas in his stealth submarine, the Megalodon; Dr. Maximilian Nero, the headmaster of H.I.V.E. who recently ascended to the top of the G.L.O.V.E. food chain, and; Natalya (codename: Raven) who is widely regarded as the world’s deadliest assassin.

Of the three, it is Raven who has emerged as the rock star of the series. In the first two books (The Higher Institute of Villainous Education and The Overlord Protocol), she was relegated to babysitting and mentoring duties. But over time, the author has given her more to do. And in this book, he’s (finally!) given us a meaningful glimpse into her origin story.

Like the students at H.I.V.E., Natalya was groomed for a future of villainy. She spent her formative years in the Glasshouse, “the most sophisticated operative training facility on Earth.” It was during her time at the Glasshouse when she picked up her nickname Raven. And it was during this time when she was honed as a human weapon. “She’s going to be dangerous,” noted one of her teachers. “No,” said another. “She is going to be magnificent.”

Raven’s past is filled with brutality and sadness. And it adds up to a big novel-ending twist. It’s pretty terrific. The rest of the novel is a little bit of a letdown, however. During the first half of the book, Otto and his friends concoct a complicated Rube Goldberg-like scheme to hack into their school’s computer system (their goal is to grab a copy of an upcoming exam, btw). And in the second half of the book they are enlisted to participate in a Battle Royale-like game of survival. Both endeavors turn out to be a total bust. Thankfully, Raven comes to the rescue. Not only does she save the H.I.V.E. kids when their plans go awry. But she also gives us a reason to read the next volume in the series (H.I.V.E.: Deadlock).

[H.I.V.E.: Aftershock / By Mark Walden / First Printing: April 2014 / ISBN: 9781442494671]

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