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The Dark Deeps by Arthur Slade
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The Dark Deeps (2010)

by Arthur Slade

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IÛªd be hard-pressed to say whether this one exceeds the first or comes dead even. It‰Ûªs always nice when a series keeps its momentum, both in terms of action and character development. Modo goes from hopping across the rooftops of London to being (albeit cordially) imprisoned on the tricked-out submarine Ictineo after he falls overboard during an attack on their steamship, leaving Octavia behind to relay the news of Modo‰Ûªs possible death to Mr. Socrates. While the crew and captain of the Ictineo are zealots, with a one-sided focus on using pure science to advance an utopist agenda, their hidden underwater city near Iceland is both a marvel of technology and of tolerance, which pulls at Modo‰Ûªs heartstrings as well as his intellect. Meanwhile, Hakkandottir and the Clockwork Guild are up to more of their nefarious plans, and they‰Ûªve sent after Modo a truly difficult enemy: Griff, the invisible boy.

Modo is in a difficult place in this book, even more so in the first. Managing his appearance is harder, since he is stuck in close quarters on a submarine, and he never fully manages to hide behind masks or his shape-changing ability effectively. This takes a physical toll, obviously, but an emotional one as well, since Modo is constantly on edge that someone will see his true appearance. Also, his desire to please Mr. Socrates by bringing home Captain Monturiol‰Ûªs technology ‰ÛÒ thereby aiding the British Empire and sticking it to the French ‰ÛÒ is in direct contrast with his empathy for the Captain‰Ûªs true intentions. She only wants to create a society where all people are equal and valued, and Modo, who looks like a monster, shares in that vision. All he wants is a place where he can show his true face without fear, where he can belong.

A lot of what I like about this book is the contrasts among the characters: Captain Monturil and Hakkandottir; Modo and Griff; Octavia and Colette. They‰Ûªre all duos with similar backgrounds and/or characteristics, but each person does something entirely different with the similarities.

Blinded by her idealistic visions, Captain Monturiol can be ruthless and vengeful with those whom she perceives (sometimes unfairly) to be in her way, but she is sympathetic in a way Hakkandottir is not. Hakkandottir is intriguing, but she is wholly villainous, with no redeeming qualities. She‰Ûªs mustache-twirling evil, though in a coolly dispassionate way. The Captain, on the other hand, first seems like a villain ‰ÛÒ after all, she‰Ûªs sinking ships that come too close to her underwater city, regardless of the lives lost and whether the ships were at fault ‰ÛÒ but she quickly becomes more complex. Sure, she is a little crazy, a fanatic with an implausible dream who refuses to see reality, and the fact that her fanaticism presents itself in a completely rational, scientific manner only makes it seem crazier. But she truly cares for her people ‰ÛÒ the ones with whom she‰Ûªs creating this society ‰ÛÒ and one gets the sense that if more people thought like her about equality, the world would be much improved. So, she wavers between Modo‰Ûªs antagonist and his ally and, like all real people, is not simply good or evil but both.

Griff, the invisible boy, is basically Modo without the benefit of Mr. Socrates and the others who raised him with care. Griff is a genetic freak (though in his case, a purposely altered one) used by an organization to further their aims. So is Modo. The biggest difference is that the Clockwork Guild used Griff in an inhumane way, taught him to hate himself and others, and punished his failures severely, while requiring complete obedience. They twisted him mentally. Modo, despite being twisted physically, had an upbringing that was occasionally harsh but never cruel or deceitful, and he always had people to care for him. Griff‰Ûªs isolation mirrors Modo‰Ûªs ‰ÛÒ neither can show his true face, neither can ever be ordinary ‰ÛÒ but Griff has been driven insane by it. It‰Ûªs tough not to feel pity for Griff, who‰Ûªs been shaped by those who raised him as much as Modo has.

And finally, Octavia and Colette, competitive, intelligent, young female spies aware of how hard they must work to be taken seriously among the menfolk. Both are somewhat bossy and superior, especially with Modo, but they‰Ûªre clearly compensating ‰ÛÒ Colette is also half-Japanese and half-French, so she feels the pressure to prove herself possibly even more than Octavia does. Colette seems older, more polished and urbane, than Olivia, but both have hard shells. Both come to care for Modo because of his competency, his decency, and his compassion, and I think they are also taken in by his mystery and the challenge of uncovering it. Modo and Colette they come to trust each other ‰ÛÒ despite Modo being a British spy and she a French one ‰ÛÒ in part because battling against the Clockwork Guild is more important. Since Colette is more forward about her interest in Modo, willing to challenge his belief that no one will ever truly accept him, he eventually shows her his true appearance. The whole scene is beautifully written, and my heart broke for Modo when Colette tearfully asks him to put his mask back on so that she doesn‰Ûªt have to see his face. My heart broke again when, after Colette‰Ûªs and Modo‰Ûªs daring escape and rescue at the end, Octavia gives him Colette‰Ûªs farewell letter and he knew in his heart why she hadn‰Ûªt stayed to say good-bye. Her admission that she wasn‰Ûªt as good a person as she wanted to be just made it more painful. Modo‰Ûªs hurt and self-loathing is palpable, and Octavia‰Ûªs chances of seeing Modo without his mask just went down to zero.

We also get a few chapters from Mr. Socrates viewpoint as Octavia first reports Modo‰Ûªs potential watery death and then as her search for Modo continues. Again, he is distant and chilly and yet, underneath his emotionless mask, he has feelings for Modo that he cannot quite put aside. Almost, but not quite. He may consider these feelings to be irrational and not in the best interests of the British Empire, but he goes further in this book toward accepting that this is how a father should feel. His relationship to Modo is still the one that I find the most interesting; his heart is always warring with his head when Modo is concerned, but the battle is practically invisible, like he‰Ûªs trying to fight it without admitting it, even to himself. It makes me wonder even more about his past, of which we know very little. Will he be there when Modo really needs him? Here, it seems, he is, though we don‰Ûªt get to see their reunion play out in this book, something I really missed.

Of course, this book isn‰Ûªt short on fascinating steampunk inventions or thrilling chases, escapes, and battles, but what I love about the series is that there‰Ûªs much more than cool gadgetry and action scenes. It has heart. This may prompt me to finally go out and get Slade's other books to read while I'm waiting for the next installment. ( )
  Crowinator | Sep 23, 2013 |
I'm giving away a copy of The Dark Deeps on my blog this week: www.ink-spells.blogspot.com
  SusanKayeQuinn | Nov 20, 2011 |
Reviewed by Theresa L. Stowell for TeensReadToo.com

In the first book of THE HUNCHBACK ASSIGNMENTS, Modo becomes a spy for his guardian, Mr. Socrates. During his premier assignment, he meets and becomes infatuated with Octavia Milkweed, a girl close to his age. In this second book, Slade channels Jules Verne as he introduces young readers to the world of steampunk adventures.

Now, despite their youth, Modo will be asked to pose as Octavia's husband. Though it seems like a dream come true, Modo will experience significant discomfort as he has to continually transform his features, so Octavia will not discover his true identity.

As Modo's and Octavia's exciting new adventure takes off, they are sent to America aboard a steamship to find another one of Mr. Socrates' agents. Once they arrive, however, they are given the tragic news of the agent's death, and they are thrust into another ocean-going escapade. This time, they are setting off to find out what they can about the mysterious IctÍneo, but the only clues they have are its longitude and latitude and a loose definition of the word that suggests a connection or resemblance to a large fish.

When the rusty ship they are traveling on is damaged on the voyage, Modo is thrown overboard. Octavia struggles with the idea that Modo is dead or will be soon as their ship leaves the area to get repairs. Surprisingly, Modo is saved and learns more about the IctÍneo than he thought was possible.

Interspersed with exciting exploits, frightening villains, and shadowy locations, this segment of Modo's and Octavia's service is a fun, fast read for all ages. ( )
  GeniusJen | Aug 5, 2011 |
No sparkley vampires here. No hunky werewolves. No angels. Our hero is a grossly disfigured hunchback named Modo who has a special talent to turn transform himself so he looks like any other person. He was bought/adopted/taken in by Mr. Socrates who sequestered him for the first years of his life and gave him an intense education both mentally and physically.

In this second episode of the series Mr. Socrates has Modo and Octavia pose as husband and wife to investigate the disappearance of a French spy name Colette Burnett. She had been investigating the mysterious disappearance and/or destruction of boats in an area of the ocean off Iceland. Their own ship becomes the latest victim of the mystery and Modo finds himself the guest of Captain Monturiol, the daughter of a brilliant scientist with a most remarkable vision for a new country, aboard a submarine.

We meet new characters, both good guys and members of the evil Clockwork Guild including Griff, an invisible man who seems to be mentally affected by the potion given to him to make him able to bend light but does nothing to improve his obnoxious personality. Miss Hakkandottir (I love this name) is an amazing villain with mechanical hands. She lives to continue hunting Modo in future books.

Arthur Slade makes Saskatoon, Saskatchewan his home and I can only wonder if this locale gives a boost to his fantastic imagination. I will be on the lookout for more Modo adventures. ( )
  mamzel | Jul 15, 2011 |
***Possible spoilers***

I enjoyed the first book, and I enjoyed this one even better. This one rather focuses more on Modo and Colette (another spy but for the French) aboard a submarine. The addition of Griff into the story- who makes a perfect creepy villain, also made the book a great read.

What I enjoyed the most out of the story is the underwater city. I absolutely loved that part! the descriptions, the overall feel to it was so rich in description and was easily pictured. It was like reading a description of the lost city of Atlantis. The book has a certain ‘Captain Nemo’ feel to it because of the adventure at sea but the intrigue is what sets it apart and that’s where Griff comes in and provides a spectacular role. He does make a chilling villain despite this book meant for children, I have read nasty villains before, but this one fits perfect for the target age audience.

I thought Colette and Modo made a great team! they worked great together - it’s an interesting contrast to what you see with Octavia and Modo (where they bicker at times - which is cute) but Colette seems to be the more calm, mature type character whereas I see Octavia as a small explosive firecracker (for lack of a better terminology!). I’m actually liking the fact that Octavia does really care about Modo, as she does show how she really feel throughout the book.
I’d have to say, I think the only thing I did not really like is the late entrance of the Clockwork Guild. I thought they were going to be in the book for longer but no, so it was just a little disappointing. I was hoping there would be more of them hanging around (Well, Griff doesn’t really count. Sort of. I was hoping for more of Miss Hakkandottir.)

This was a great follow up to the First Hunchback Assignments. I did recently grab the third one; Empire of Ruins and am hoping it will be just as good! This series has to be one of my favorites of Children’s Fiction. ( )
  sensitivemuse | Jun 22, 2011 |
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For Tori, with all my love
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The boy hadn't always been yellow.
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While searching for the cause behind the sinking of several ships, the hunchback Modo and his friend Octavia sail to the exact coordinates of the attacks. Is it a sea monster? Or something else? They aren't alone in their pursuit: the beautiful and mysterious French agent Colette has been researching this penomenon for some time. Upon reaching the site, Modo and Octavia's ship is rammed, and Modo is plunged into the icy sea, disappearing from view. Saved from certain death by a most unlikely rescuer, Modo discovers the mechanical truth behind the attacks. But the Clockwork Guild is closing in. How will he get back to the surface?
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Fourteen-year-old Modo, a shape-changing hunchback, and Octavia take on another mission as secret agents for the Permanent Association in Victorian London, investigating the cause behind the sinking of several ships in the same place.

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