The Hunchback Assignmentswritten by Arthur SladeHarperCollins Publishers, 2009978-1-55468-354-3 (hc) $18.99for Grades 7 and upFiction – Fantasy
“You are deformed. You are ugly. But remember this day, Modo. It’s the day you learned that you’ve been given an incredible gift. Your unsightly countenance may seem unbearable now, but because of it, the world will always underestimate you.”
The Hunchback Assignments is the first book in award-winning author Arthur Slade’s new series. Five-year-old Modo was snacking on bread and honey with his governess when his guardian-keeper, Mr. Socrates, forces the lad to look in a mirror at his deformed face. While Socrates informs Modo that this unsightliness may be an advantage, he is also very pleased that Modo has the gift of being able to change his face to temporarily resemble anyone he wishes. Perhaps that is why the mysterious Mr. Socrates has kept the boy since he discovered him as a toddler, educating and training him for a purpose that is slowly revealed to readers. With seeming cruelty, Socrates abandons the teenaged Modo on the streets of London, where his path becomes intertwined with the beautiful orphan, Octavia Milkweed. He learns that they are both spies for The Permanent Association, a secret organization that is out to squelch the evil forces of the Clockwork Guild. These evil scientists have in their employ, Doctor Cornelius Hyde, whose personality-changing tinctures and body-part-replacing experiments are being practised on both adults and children!
Readers who aren’t afraid of having nightmares will burn the midnight oil to finish this engrossing story. While terrifying in some ways, there is also a lightness to the work that readers will appreciate. I suspect Slade had fun playing with the literary stereotypes – Mr. Hyde and (Quasi) Modo – and dusting off little known Victorian facts about steam power, gadgets and gizmos.
Reviewed by lian goodall
Canadian Children’s Book News, Summer 2009 Vol. 32 No. 3
Look for the highly anticipated sequel, The Dark Deeps: The Hunchback Assignments II, when it is released May 15, 2010.