27. The Hunchback Assignments by Arthur Slade
Publication: Wendy Lamb Books (September 22, 2009), Hardback, 288pp / ISBN 038573784X
Genre: Sci-Fi, YA
Read: February 8, 2010
Summary from Amazon:
The mysterious Mr. Socrates rescues Modo, a child in a traveling freak show. Modo is a hunchback with an amazing ability to transform his appearance, and Mr. Socrates raises him in isolation as an agent for the Permanent Association, a spy agency behind Brittania’s efforts to rule the empire. At 14, Modo is left on the streets of London to fend for himself. When he encounters Octavia Milkweed, another Association agent, the two uncover a plot by the Clockword Guild behind the murders of important men. Furthermore, a mad scientist is turning orphan children into automatons to further the goals of the Guild. Modo and Octavia journey deep into the tunnels under London and discover a terrifying plot against the British government. It’s up to them to save their country.
The idea is very interesting: a steampunk re-imagining of The Hunchback of Notre Dame. I think I was expecting something like THOND plus steampunk stuff. Basically the same plot, but with added nifty science-y things, right? Well, it’s not.
I admit that I probably should have read the book summary before starting it because I think that would have kept me from being disappointed with what it actually was: young Quasimodo with superpowers. That’s not nearly as interesting and exciting to me as Quasimodo with, I don’t know. A mechanical tail or something. Like Frankenstein’s monster except with machinery added on. I think I just wanted it to be more closely tied to THOND than it was.
But if you ignore THOND connection, The Hunchback Assignments isn’t a bad steampunk book. It’s actually pretty good! I really liked how the steampunk technology was new and creepy. Like mechanical arms, for instance. Have you ever thought of how they’d actually work? When I was reading Boneshaker, and I read about the character with a gun-arm, I never thought of how it’d actually work. But Mr Slade describes it– and it’s gross. No steampunk gun-arms for me, thanks. But I loved the detail Mr Slade put into it.
The characters were pretty good, too. I think they tended to be a little bit on the cliched, stereotyped side of things (plucky, fiesty girl lead? Check. Miserable, disillusioned loner who falls in love with the female lead? Check. Sexy villainess? Check. Bah.) but I liked reading about them and how they handled themselves in this world. I feel bad for Modo, of course, but I liked that he was a little messed up in the head. It made things more interesting. (And of course he’s disfigured.)
This is going to be a series, and so I hope the second book improves on some of the things I had problems with. Who knows, maybe the farther on we’ll get in the series the more it’ll follow the original THOND! But I don’t think I’ll be running out to get a copy of the sequel.