________________ CM . . . . Volume XVIIII Number 2. . . .September 14, 2012


Island of Doom. (The Hunchback Assignments series IV).

Arthur Slade.
Toronto, ON: HarperCollins, 2012.
263 pp., hardcover, $18.99.
ISBN 978-1-55468-360-4.

Grades 6-9 / Ages 11-14.

Review by Mary Thomas.

*** /4



The roaring was closer now. Was it bison? [Modo]'d read about how large they were. He fully expected to see a herd stampede over the rise and trample them.

To Modo's shock a giant charged over the rise, followed by another and another -- twelve feet tall, metal creatures with massive gleaming helmeted heads and arms and legs that hissed. A dozen pounded along in formation, holding what looked to be multi-chambered elephant guns. The armour on their chests was dented, yet glittered. They yelled in unison and Modo nearly wet his britches.

Right behind them was an Association soldier, holding a speaking trumpet. He gave a command and the giants split into two groups, drew massive wooden clubs from their backs and began fighting one another.

Octavia's mouth was hanging open. Mr Socrates grinned, ear to ear, obviously pleased and proud. "These men are the most elite fighting unit in all the world."

"There are men inside all that metal?" Modo asked.

"Of course," Mr Socrates answered. "Very large men standing on steam-powered legs and strapped and bolted into an armoured torso. See how smoothly they move? ... You are about to get a good close look at a secret weapon about which neither the Prime Minister nor the Queen is aware."


Arthur Slade has taken elements from all over the classical and science-fiction literary map and knitted them together in this series of “Hunchback Assignment” novels. Firstly, of course, there is Modo, the hunchback who, in this final book, actually does establish a connection with Notre Dame cathedral (he was abandoned there as a baby), although Victor Hugo's "hero" certainly did not have Modo's amazing shape-changing abilities. In his natural shape, Modo is so ugly that he wears a mask: Hello, Phantom of the Opera! Then there is Mr Hyde, the mad scientist more akin to Dr. Moreau than Dr Jeckyll, who makes humanoid monsters from the bodies of the recently dead. However, he seems able to animate them only if he has access to some part of Modo's body -- his little finger cut off by Miss Hakkandottir in the previous book, for example. Mr Hyde's first creation is named Typhon, after the "father of all monsters" in Greek mythology who was created at the beginning of the world by Gaia and finally destroyed when Zeus threw Mount Etna on top of him. He was not a nice person; his namesake isn't either -- huge, ugly, and impervious to bullets and knives since one cannot kill what is already dead.

     All these pieces are tied into a story which is the sequel to three previous encounters/books in which the the Clockwork Guild (the baddies) attempt to destroy Britain and its Empire. The Permanent Association (the good guys), under the leadership of Mr Socrates, Modo's benefactor and adoptive father, and with the muscle power and peculiar abilities of Modo and Octavia, another adoptee this time from the London gutters, have defeated the Guild's previous attempts to destroy England, but without damaging its basic organization. After all, what does the loss of a large sea-going warship or a huge airship actually matter if the brains of the Guild -- the Guild Master -- remains at large? Spoiler alert: the good guys finally win, and the Trojan horse makes an appearance.
As you can gather from the above, the story is a bit over-the-top, and not meant to be taken seriously, even by children prone to nightmares. Modo reads Middlemarch and Wuthering Heights. Miss Hakkandottir, the Guild Master's lieutenant, is disappointed when the pilot she has back-handed for a sloppy landing falls several metres from the airship without even suffering a broken leg. And young love also triumphs over adversity and ugliness. It's a fun book. The action is fast, furious, and frequently bloody; the science ranges back and forth from its late nineteenth-century setting, but is wildly imaginative and almost plausible.

     All in all, it is a good science-fiction/fantasy blend, and a recommended read.


Mary Thomas, who has retired from working in Winnipeg school libraries, has enjoyed “The Hunchback Assignments” books very much as have the students in her school's MYRCA (Manitoba Young Readers’ Choice Award) club.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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