The Hunchback Assignments

Hunchback Assignments

Author: Arthur Slade

Publication: 2009, Wendy Lamb Books

Pages: 288

Overall Rating:     bth_35_zps7a173504[1]                    

Rating for Action: bth_25_zps13f4f4eb[1]

Quantity of Action: bth_3-star-rating_zps73bdba73[1]

Age Category: 12+

Brief Summary: Modo was born horribly deformed, but with a unique gift.  He can alter his features to look like other people for a brief period of time.  As a baby, Modo is discovered and taken in by Mr. Socrates, a British agent in 1870’s England.  Socrates trains him and when he’s old enough sends him out into the world as a secret agent.  Along with fellow agent Octavia Milkweed – who has never seen his real face – Modo works to uncover and ultimately stop The Clockwork Guild.

The Guild has recruited Dr. Hyde, and is using him to build a steam powered monster run by half-human, half-machine cyborgs that they control by means of a special potion Hyde has developed.  They mean to bring the British Empire to its knees – and only Modo and Octavia can stop them.

Age of Main Character: 13

What I Liked the Most:  Modo’s character is one of the most compelling things about this book.  He’s tough and resourceful.  He’s got some extensive combat training and is strong, incredibly agile, and able to adapt to a wide range of situations with ease – as long as his features are altered or he’s wearing a mask.  But when the mask is removed, he becomes weak, terrified, and extremely vulnerable.  He hates himself, and yet has a huge capacity to love and care for others.  It’s a fascinating balance.

Slade also shows a knack for creativity, taking the old story of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and playing it out.  Now it’s Dr. Hyde, and he’s an expert with clockwork and steam – making steam powered prosthetic limbs and coming up with tinctures to harness people’s anger and rage, turning them into malleable beasts.  It’s a very cool storyline.   And, of course, there’s also Slade’s play on the old story of Quasimodo – turning him into a shape-shifting spy who retains both the deformities and the raw physical prowess of the original.

What I Liked the Least: I’m not actually sure if this was a bad thing or not.  Slade’s novel does read kind of like a Victorian thriller.  The emotions and language felt right for a novel set in the 1870s.  That’s good in a way – but it also meant that, as deep as Modo’s emotions sometime went, the book overall felt kind of flat.  Outside of Modo, it was hard to really feel invested in any of the other characters.

How Good was the Action? The action in this book is a mixed bag.  There were times when it got pretty good, with Modo leaping about, crawling up and down buildings.  But all too often it felt abbreviated.  The fights were short on detail, the chases never lasted very long.  And while Modo is incredibly agile, his feats never had the intensity of Day, one of the main characters in Marie Liu’s Legend.  There were times when it felt like I should have been reading Parkour in action, as Modo flipped from rooftop to rooftop, but the reality was far less exciting.

How Engaging was the Story? It has its moments.  I liked the storyline, with Modo and Octavia joining forces to uncover the plans of the Clockwork Guild.  And I got into Modo’s character and his internal struggle with how he looks.  But I never really felt a strong connection to most of the other characters – with the occasional exception of Octavia.   So while this was a fairly enjoyable read with a creative storyline, there were plenty of times when my attention wandered.

Overall Assessment: The Hunchback Assignments provides a cool storyline that plays off some very old tales in a new and unique way.  It also gives us a rather unique hero in the form of Modo – the deformed shape shifter and spy.  The pace and emotional depth of the book sometimes felt a bit flat, but it still makes for a decent read, especially if you’re into period thrillers.

Profanity: None

Sex: None

Violence: Some, but it’s extremely minimal

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