Mark Walden

I started reading this series when I was the actual target age group for it, and sometime in the last few months it popped back into my head. From there, I found out that the final book in the series had been published, and I figured I’d go back through and reread the whole thing, now that it was done, see what it’s like.

Honestly, it stands up pretty well. I still feel like this could be adapted into a movie franchise pretty well—it’s got some of that Harry Potter vibe to it, but for the people who love James Bond rather than people who like general fantasy novel stuff.

What’s nice about the ‘finished series’ part of it is that I feel like most of the plot threads got pulled together very well. Everyone gets closure, everyone you like gets a happy ending. And there’s enough room in the state of things for there to be a spin-off series afterwards, if the author feels like writing more!1

As far as what the series is actually about goes, here’s the tl;dr: the Higher Institute of Villainous Education is a boarding school with a very selective, and mandatory, acceptance rate. From the villainous children of the world, the worst of the worst find themselves snatched up and brought to a sprawling facility carved out of the inside of an active volcano, and taught to be not just better villains, but villains with panache. This is where all the classic Bond villains went to school; there are class sessions on space station logistics, how to choose between sites for your underwater base, and how to effectively monologue while slowly executing the hero.

This series is just fun. It perfectly captures that stylistic aplomb, the undeniable cool of the bad guys in the classic Bond films, and mixes it with the staples of the YA genre better than the “young Bond” series ever managed to.

I wasn’t sure how this reread was going to go, but I’m delighted with the end result. I absolutely recommend these books—at very least, check out the first one and see what you think.2

  1. And, by the way, if Walden ever sees this: give me a sequel about Nigel and Franz falling in love, damn you. That little line in the epilogue, “it’s not just the ladies,” that’s the bare minimum of queer representation possible, and I want more.
  2. This is a Bookshop affiliate link – if you buy it from here, I get a little bit of commission. It won’t hurt my feelings if you buy it elsewhere; honestly, I’d rather you check it out from your local library, or go to a local book store. I use Bookshop affiliate links instead of Amazon because they distribute a significant chunk of their profits to small, local book stores.