Summary: Sold to gypsies as a baby, Modo is rescued from his life as an attraction in a freak show by Mr. Socrates. With a hump on his back and a disfigured face, Modo’s looks are shocking to others, but he possesses a special ability to transform his appearance for brief periods of time. Trained from childhood with strength and stealth skills, Modo finds himself abandoned in London by Mr. Socrates after a lifetime of seclusion to prove himself. When a girl named Octavia comes into Modo’s life, they stumble upon the Clockwork Guild’s nefarious efforts to create a mind control serum. Unsure of the Guild’s ultimate objectives for the serum, Modo and Octavia follow the clues they encounter under Mr. Socrates’ guidance, only to realise the truth is more sinister than they could have ever imagined.
Number of Pages: 275
Age Range: 12-14
Review: Kind-hearted and taught to expect fear and rejection, Modo is a sensitive character with honourable intentions and a desire to protect those weaker than he is. Octavia, as an orphan taken under Mr. Socrates’ wing to be one of his spies, has similar characteristics for different reasons. Together, they make a great team, sussing out the Clockwork Guild’s evil intentions and ignoring the orders of those in power to save the innocents. The Hunchback Assignments is an epic steampunk storyline, and epically told by author Arthur Slade.
I loved all of the non-evil characters. Modo for his quietly heroic nature, Octavia for her steadfast determination in life, Mr. Socrates for recognizing the potential in Modo instead of writing him off as a freak, Tharpa’s skilled instruction and obvious care for his students, Mrs. Finchley for her role as Modo’s surrogate and loving mother. I cried for Oscar and Oppie because neither one of them deserved what happened to them at the hands of Dr. Hyde. Because I feel so invested in them, I am eager to read the rest of Slade’s Hunchback series.
Acknowledging that the following paragraph is conjecture on my part, when it came to Modo wondering if Mr. Socrates truly cared about him or just viewed him as one of his spies, I knew that Modo never needed to doubt Mr. Socrates’ affections. Why? Because Modo’s story is an offshoot of Quasimodo, the hunchback of Notre Dame’s story, only while Quasimodo was treated as something less than human by Claude Frollo, Modo is at least respected by Mr. Socrates. I know that because Mr. Socrates names him Modo, which Slade tells his reader means ‘formed,’ a reference to his belief that Modo is a person and complete despite his appearance. In comparison, Quasimodo then means ‘partially formed,’ clearly showing Frollo’s attitudes toward Quasimodo in his name choice.
Slade’s story is a page-turner, the action is well-paced and will keep readers on the edge of their seats hoping everything works out once the true horror of the Clockwork Guild’s intentions are revealed. It’s a book with deeply disturbing aspects, causing it to be appropriately cross-labelled as steampunk, thriller and horror all at the same time.
I quite enjoyed the themes of science versus Mother Nature and the contrast of Modo’s obvious strength and ability against his appearance which is perceived as a deformity. Slade has given me much to think about in terms of what control of mind and body actually means, and also reinforced my beliefs that the mind is a powerful thing. I’m sure Mr. Socrates was trying to prepare Modo for the real world by teaching him never to reveal his true face, but I also felt certain that Octavia could have handled it and cared about him anyway. Although that part could be more of a series teaser than a genuine mistrust on Modo’s part.
I haven’t read a bad steampunk book yet on my Marathon of Books, but The Hunchback Assignments is at the top of my favourite steampunk list. I’d recommend it for early teen readers.
“‘This is for science,’ he explained tenderly. ‘Science. Mother Nature’s design has failed you, but mine will not.'” – Hyde from The Hunchback Assignments by Arthur Slade, page 2
“‘But I remember my past, young sahib. That is why I do not cringe when I see you. Your disfiguration, it is not your true self.'” – Tharpa talking to Modo from The Hunchback Assignments by Arthur Slade, page 31
“The carriage rattled on. Oscar was bewildered: he was a rider both in the carriage and in his own body. No matter how many times he commanded his hands to open the door or his mouth to call out, nothing happened. His heartbeat was regular and he wasn’t sweating; the panic he felt was all in his head.” – Oscar from The Hunchback Assignments by Arthur Slade, page 137