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The Hunchback Assignments by Arthur Slade
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The Hunchback Assignments (2009)

by Arthur Slade

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14-year-old Modo is an orphan with a disfigured face and a deformed shoulder, found near Notre Dame. When the mysterious Mr. Socrates discovers Modo's ability to alter his own appearance temporarily, he takes Modo under his wing and trains him in the art of espionage. For Modo, who knows that he'll always be judged by his hideous face, Mr. Socrates is the closest thing he has to a father. Therefore, when Mr. Socrates sends him on a secret mission to investigate an anarchist group that kidnaps orphaned children, Modo leaps at the opportunity to show him that his investment was worthwhile.

Modo's inner conflict of having to wrestle with his ugliness combined with his outer conflict of having to fight the anarchists led to a well-balanced read. Modo was an understandable protagonist, and it was unique to read about a character whose natural state is ugly. It breaks standard conventions.

Another effective trait was that the science aspect was well-thought-out and believable; mostly steam-powered weaponry.

The only faults of this book are that some characters speak in difficult-to-understand cockney accents and the obvious literature references in the characters' names (e.g. Modo - Quasimodo, Dr. Cornelius Hyde - Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde, etc.) get annoying after a while. Despite these minor complaints, this book is ideal for the steampunk fan and the reader looking for an introduction to steampunk fiction. ( )
  NigeltheKid | Jun 8, 2014 |
"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."

This is where Modo is found as a child -- living in a cage in a traveling freak show, exhibited as "L'enfant du Monstre" for his hunchback and other heavy deformities. A mysterious benefactor, Mr. Socrates, rescues him from this life and raises him in seclusion, with only his nursemaid and an instructor for company. He's trained in stealth, acrobatics, fighting, mathematics, history, and politics, and he is not allowed to look into a mirror until he is five years old. When he is finally given permission, his reflection horrifies him, but he learns that he has the incredible ability to shift his physical appearance to look like anyone else. This is when he learns he has been training to be a spy for the Permanent Association, a secret organization dedicated to protecting the British Empire. Though it strains him greatly, his shape-shifting ability makes him an ideal spy, if he can learn to use it properly. To see if ModoÛªs training has prepared him, Mr. Socrates drops him penniless in the middle of London, where he has to survive on his own. Modo, only fourteen years old, uses his training and abilities to start his own detective agency, wearing masks when he is not shape-shifting in order to blend in. Eventually, he is given his first assignment with the Permanent Association, teaming up with another young agent, Octavia Milkweed, and together they uncover a nefarious plan orchestrated by the Clockwork Guild to take over the British government. (I won‰Ûªt spoil all of the Clockwork Guild‰Ûªs diabolical plans, except to say that part of it involves a giant clockwork automaton waging war on the city.)

This story takes place in an alternative Victorian London that is smoky and atmospheric, with plenty of inventive steampunk science worked in seamlessly. The plot races along at a breakneck pace, involving lots of dangerous undercover assignments and daring escapes for Modo, but what I really love about this story is Modo himself ‰ÛÒ he is crafty but also compassionate, and his insecurity about his true appearance, especially after he meets Octavia, is heart-breaking. His dependence on masks to hide his true identity is telling. Mr. Socrates is also a weighty character -- though he rescued Modo from a life as a circus freak, he is not a kind person, and his motivations for taking Modo in are complex. Mr. Socrates remains an inscrutable force: does he truly care for Modo, or is he just using him for his special abilites? I can't wait to see more of them in the next book, titled The Dark Deeps. ( )
  Crowinator | Sep 23, 2013 |
A note for Brooke--don't read this, I'm sending the book to you.

While the world-building and character-building in this novel are good and the plot is interesting, I just couldn't get past the animal abuse in the first chapter and the large-scale child abuse in the main plot. ( )
  Jammies | Mar 31, 2013 |
I enjoyed it. I liked comparing it to "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" and seeing where the plot lined up and where it changed. ( )
  scote23 | Mar 30, 2013 |
I just read The Hunchback Assignments, the Governor general award winning book by Arthur Slade, targeted to the same audience. Also set in Victorian London, this book is not as historical as steampunk (there is an argument to be made about the historicity of steam punk though as the father of the genre would be Mr. Verne, in my humble opinion).

The Hunchback Assignments follow Modo, an ugly changeling taken in by the mysterious Mr. Socrates and trained in all things spy-related from a young age. That is until he turns 14 ( I think) and Mr. Socrates gives him his final test: pushing him out of the carriage, he tells him to fend for himself. But Modo's true face is so horrifying he cannot go into society without causing panic. So he must rely on his cunning, his training, and his ability to shift into any shape he wants to make a living. He does okay, setting himself up in business as a mysterious private investigator. Everything goes well, until a lovely young lady knock on his door with a job for him.

This is a fun book, full of steam-powered wonders, mad scientists, and secret associations. There is not much more to say really. There is nothing deep or meaningful about it. It is a darn good adventure story with two likeable protagonists, a morally ambiguous, politically powerful boss and some rip-roaring villains (one is a female pirate with a steam-powered hand).

I would give this to any kid who enjoyed Westerfeld's Leviathan or anything based in Victorian London. Oh! And the sewers also make an appearance in this book, as well as the Scientific societies, a bit of Prussian paranoia and a half built underground station. ( )
  wiremonkey | Apr 18, 2012 |
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Slade ensures that the fanciful elements never overwhelm the story through his careful handling of the gallant Modo and the canny Octavia, another young ward drafted into action. Modo’s unusual predicament is handled with aplomb, and children will empathize with his role as an outsider who craves acceptance, even as they revel in an outlandish plot that ends with a promise of further tales of danger.
 
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For Tori,
with all my love
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Six hunting hounds had perished in previous experiments.
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Book description
When Mr. Socrates, a member of the shadowy Permanent Association, hears of a hunchbacked infant with the ability to transform his appearance, he decides to take him in. Naming him Modo, he raises the boy in isolation, training him to become a secret agent. Then, when Modo turns fourteen, his education is complete. He is transported to the streets of downtown London and abandoned, penniless, to try to survive.
But Modo is resourceful, and he finds a way to get by, keeping to himself...until one day, when the beautiful Octavia Milkweed knocks on his door. Soon, with the help of Mr. Socrates, they find themselves uncovering a sinister plot being carried out in the very sewers beneath their feet. Will they be able to stop the mad scientist Dr. hyde before he unleashes his monstrous plans upon unsuspecting Londoners?
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 038573784X, Hardcover)

A gripping new series combines Steampunk, spying, and a fantastic Victorian London.

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.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:44:44 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

In Victorian London, fourteen-year-old Modo, a shape-changing hunchback, becomes a secret agent for the Permanent Association, which strives to protect the world from the evil machinations of the Clockwork Guild.

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