Monday, June 25, 2012

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: The Hunchback Assignments

Today’s pick: The Hunchback Assignments by Arthur Slade

HarperCollins, 2009

From the publisher:

There are rumors that a hunchback infant in a gypsy freakshow has the power to transform his appearance. This comes to the attention of Mr. Socrates, a member of the shadowy Permanent Association, who decides to take the boy back to England and raise him for his own purposes. Naming him Modo, Mr. Socrates keeps the boy indoors and never lets him see his deformity, while putting him through training to be a secret agent. When Modo turns 14, his education is complete. He is handed a mirror and confronts his image for the first time, horrified. Then, he is taken to foggy, polluted London and abandoned, penniless, to test his skills.

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 and his even more terrifying associates before they unleash their monstrous plans upon unsuspecting Londoners?

The start of a fantastic series, in the hot new genre of steampunk, The Hunchback Assignments takes readers into the sewers and alleyways of an alternative Victorian London, in an unputdownable adventure.

My take:

I haven’t read many novels in the steampunk genre (Airborn by Kenneth Oppel; The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick, The Clockwork Three by Mathew Kirby), but this one is intriguing. With a masked hunchback, secret agents, secret organizations, and a creepy mad scientist, this story is an imaginative adventure that kept me reading to find out what exactly was going on. Modo, the hunchback, has special powers but struggles to cope with his feelings about his appearance while he works as a secret agent to complete his assignments. I love his developing friendship with Octavia, a fellow secret agent who likes to tease him a little and doesn't know the truth about his appearance, since he always wears a mask or is disguised.
As a writer, I admired all the details that create a complex world for readers and bring out the horror of Dr. Hyde’s experiments.
I think this book is best for upper MG/YA readers (ages 12 and up), since some parts can be confusing and some of Dr. Hyde's experiments are disturbing.

How I discovered this book: Thanks to the school librarian who recommended this novel to me! The next time you think you can't find a good book, remember to ask a librarian for a suggestion.

Other info:

The first volume in ARTHUR SLADE’s Hunchback Assignments series won the prestigious TD Canadian Children’s Literature Award.

The second volume, The Dark Deeps, was a finalist for the Canadian Library Association Book of the Year for Children Award and the CLA Young Adult Book Award.

Arthur Slade lives in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.

If you’re interested in writing, Arthur Slade has a great collection of short podcasts giving his writing tips and suggestions - Arthur Slade’spodcasts on writing. 

For example, he says that when he’s writing from the character’s point of view, he sometimes pictures himself as writing on the shoulder of the character, which helps him to get the details from the character’s perspective.

Other books by this author:
Draugr. Orca, 1997. (Northern Frights series)
The Haunting of Drang Island. Orca, 1998. (Northern Frights series)
The Loki Wolf. Orca, 2000. (Northern Frights series.).
John Diefenbaker: An Appointment with Destiny. XYZ, 2000.  
Dust. HarperCollins, 2001.  
Tribes. HarperCollins, 2002.  
Return of the Grudstone Ghosts. Coteau, 2002. (The Canadian Chills series).
Ghost Hotel. Coteau, 2004. (The Canadian Chills series).
Monsterology: Fabulous Lives of the Creepy, the Revolting and the Undead. Illustrated by Derek Mah. Tundra, 2005.  
Meguiddo's Shadow. HarperCollins, 2006.
Invasion of the IQ Snatchers. Coteau, 2007. (The Canadian Chills series).  
The Dark Deeps: The Hunchback Assignments II. HarperCollins, 2010.
Empire of Ruins: The Hunchback Assignments III. HarperCollins, 2011.
Island of Doom: The Hunchback Assignments IV. HarperCollins, 2012. (final book in the series, to be published in July 2012)

For more, visit The Hunchback Assignments website or check out Arthur Slade on the web.

Looking for more MMGM? Check out these links:

·Ally Beecher
·Barbara Watson
·Deb Marshall
·Anita Laydon Miller's Middle Grade Blog
·Middle Grade Mafioso
·Literary Rambles
·Ms. Yingling Reads
·Jennifer Rumberger
·Pam Torres
·The Accidental Novelist
·G.S. Prendergast
·Gina Carey
·Laurisa White Reyes
·Marshall and Emiline
·Dorine White
·Temre Beltz


  1. I haven't heard of this one. But it sounds good. Thanks for sharing about it.

  2. This sounds like a fun, creepy read. I haven't read much Steampunk either but I always read what my librarian recommends to me too!

  3. I love this series....LOVE it. Thanks for sharing, Andrea...and, you won the copy of MASK OF DESTINY. Congrats! I'll be in touch for your snail address.

  4. The cover screams creepy and your description makes it sounds fascinating--in a totally creepy way! I like that you placed it for upper MG and YA readers; I can see it scaring younger readers. I'm intrigued! Thank you, Andrea.

  5. eek, that cover is creepy! but i really enjoy steampunk. my first read in that genre was the golden compass, and i adored it ?)

  6. I will have to check this out. I like creepy/weird things, and "experiments" is always a good way to get me hooked. It sounds like a convoluted plot, so I'm curious to see how he plays that out in an MG novel. Thanks for sharing!

  7. Thanks for introducing me to Arthur Slade, Andrea.

    I'm reading The Clockwork Three right now, so it will be interesting to compare. And how on earth did the genre get the "steampunk" name? Steam for steam engines, but punk for... surely not The Sex Pistols?!


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