by Arthur Slade
Pub: Sept 2009/Wendy Lamb Books
The Hunchback Assignments is a creative twist on the Quasimodo hunchback story that had me reading until the wee hours.
The tale begins with Modo as a toddler and one of the attractions in a traveling freak show. After seeing the child's amazing shape-shifting ablities, Modo is saved by the mysterious Mr. Socrates, who raises him in seclusion and trains him as a first-class secret agent for the Parliament Association.
Cool, right? Modo is adept at math, science, languages, etc. He's a clever kid although lonely and also devastated by his deformed appearance.
At fourteen he's set upon the streets of Victorian London and is soon investigating the mysterious disappearances of several street children. In his sleuthing, Modo relies on his amazing shape-shifting abilities. While his natural appearance isn't pretty, he can transform/mirror any other person. He's also like a Victoria era free runner because he travels over London's rooftops with ease.
Modo learns that the Clockwork Guild has set in motion a malicious plot against the government, just as a evil scientist is creating a monstrous army of altered children to further the goals of the Guild.
To protect the empire, Modo teams up with another agent, Octavia Milkweed, for an assignment that takes them from the tower of London to a frightening world deep beneath the city, that includes traipsing through the city's sewers.
The setting is a creepy Victorian London but with a dystopian twist because of the cool gadgets. Modo is lovable. He's this smart guy and adept super spy but he also has many insecurities, and while his feelings for Octavia grow you keep rooting for him to succeed in saving the world and finding love.
The Cover: A winner! The cloaked figure on the roofs of London, the gears and symbols - and the blue gives it a dangerous, eerie feel. It's what prompted me to pick this one up.
The First Lines: The large carriage rattled with grotesqueries - bones of cats and pigs strung up as wind chimes, bleached bear skulls dangling from wires, and three shrunken monkey heads mounted on posts. Their glass eyes stared out at the approaching winter. Bells that hung from reins tinkled, warning away wandering spirits. Four horses pulled the carriage, hip bones protruding from their bedraggled flesh, hides scarred by thousands of whippings. Huddled behind them in a thick, warm coat and muffler was a grizzled old man.
Upon reaching the site, Modo and Octavia's ship is rammed, and Modo is plunged into the icy sea... and disappears from sight. As he faces certain death, Modo is saved by a most unlikely underwater rescuer and discovers the mechanical truth behind the attacks. But the Clockwork Guild closes in. How will he get back to the surface?