CM . . .
. Volume XV Number 22. . . .June 26, 2009
The Hunchback Assignments.
Toronto, ON: HarperCollins, 2009.
275 pp., pbk., $18.99.
Grades 7 and up / Ages 12 and up.
Review by Jennifer Draper.
Reviewed from Uncorrected Proof.
"Before you meet the world, you must first know yourself. Do you understand?" Modo looked from teacher to master and back again. "Do you understand?"
Modo nodded hesitantly.
With that, Mr. Socrates pulled a small hand mirror from his vest pocket……The glittering mirror hypnotized Modo. Mr. Socrates turned the mirror slowly towards Modo's face.
Modo looked in the glass and saw, for the first time in his life, his own eye blinking. One eye was larger than the other, protruding like an insect's. His enormous teeth were crooked. Bright red hair grew in clumps on his head. He had imagined his face as everything from beautiful to scarred and ugly, but this was much worse than he'd dreamed-uglier than any illustration he had ever seen. Disbelief turned to horror and Modo's eyes grew wide and welled with tears.
He looked up at Mrs. Finchley and whispered, "You told me I was beautiful."
Modo has been rescued from a freak show touring the suburbs of London, England, by Mr. Socrates. This mysterious stranger trains Modo in his gift of shape shifting. Modo can make his ugly countenance into a replica of any person he can imagine. For the first twelve years of his life, he is kept in a house, without going outside, and has no human contact save the servants. There, he learns how to fight, read and write. He learns how to be the ultimate spy for Mr. Socrates' secret organization. But when he is left stranded on the streets of London with no money, he has to learn to fend for himself. Modo sets up as a detective, and his first big case nearly gets him killed. His foe is the Clockwork Guild, a secret organization with world domination on its mind. They use the services of Dr. Hyde to create the ultimate weapon to destroy London.
The Hunchback Assignments is written in the steampunk genre. This genre encompasses
Edwardian and Victorian England and the use of steam power. The text is full of crazy inventions, including a steam powered quadriplegic and a robotic sparrow. It has disturbing moments for those unfamiliar with the genre, and the insinuation of child torture is a bit much to handle. In short, this novel is not for those with a weak stomach.
The setting is aptly described, and readers can visualize the scenery as it is presented. The text is often jumpy and stilted and leaves something to be desired. In general, the characters are presented
well enough, and Modo is well fleshed out. But the secondary characters are two dimensional, and the reader lacks an affinity for them. Overall, this book is an adequate representation of what the genre is supposed to be, but not spectacular by any means.
Jennifer Draper is a librarian/children's literature aficionado living in Oshawa, ON.
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