Dr. Critchlore's School for Minions: Book 1
Blending a teen school storyline with monsters, myths, evil overlords and mad scientists, DOCTOR CRITCHLORE'S SCHOOL FOR MINIONS offers a charming and novel look at the life of a young boy whose aspirations are to be the best minion he can be. It's a rather unconventional approach, as most books about attending unusual schools (for magic, mayhem, etc.) typically focus on becoming a hero or villain, a wizard or genius (evil or otherwise). With this story, though, the focus is less on becoming a destined champion and more on being a good underling, being able to protect the wizards and rulers from outside threats and, sometimes, themselves.
It's also refreshing that, while the book is set in a training school for minions, the kids have a feeling of normalcy. They aren't cartoonishly evil, and even Dr. Critchlore and Dr. Frankenhammer, the two most "evil" characters, aren't defined solely by their villainy. Their flaws come out of their selfishness and arrogance, and they’re complex characters. Similarly, Runt, the main character, isn’t drastically good --- the focus of the book is on friendship and integrity, and the characters are left to just be people. That some are giants and some imps is more incidental, than anything.
I loved the setting and world-building and how it blended elements of comic books, cartoons and mythology into one satisfying package.
The story really lives and dies with Runt Higgins, an orphan who lives at the school. The book follows Runt as he tries to excel at his classes and find his place in a world dominated by ogres, dryads and werewolves. Although he’s physically weak, Runt is among one of the strongest students at the school because of his character. By being friendly, listening, caring and generally trying to be a decent person, Runt manages to thwart a plot to destroy the school and place most of the student body in danger.
Perhaps that sounds a little boring, though? Niceness doesn't typically make for the most thrilling of reads. But the book is paced well and the action does not disappoint. With ravenous zombies, plagues of insects, fire-breathing dragons and practical-joking imps, the action of the book is well done, as are the dramatic elements. Runt has to help his friends as they struggle with their own issues --- including a Frankenhammer's monster with father issues, a merman ashamed of his power and an ogre so small he's the size of a human --- and when Runt is in trouble, they show up to help him save the day. The book wraps up nicely, yet also dangles a number of juicy threads that can be explored in future books in the series.
With an entertaining storyline and a diverse cast, the pages of DOCTOR CRITCHLORE’S SCHOOL FOR MINIONS just fly by. While I might have wanted to see the book tackle a few more issues than it did, I loved the setting and world-building and how it blended elements of comic books, cartoons and mythology all into one satisfying package.
Reviewed by Charles Payseur on March 16, 2015