Quill & Quire
London in the 19th century was a place of wondrous adventure. Secret organizations flourished, spies were everywhere, and man-monsters roamed the alleyways looking to kidnap children to aid in their nefarious schemes. At least, that’s how Arthur Slade portrays the era. And while it may not be historically accurate, that hardly matters when the results are so much fun. The Hunchback Assignments
, the latest from the Governor General’s Award-winning author, is a full-steam-ahead spy thriller, complete with derring-do, a dastardly villain, and a suitably complex plot that keeps the reader one slight step behind the wily hero. Modo is a young boy blessed with the ability to temporarily alter his physiognomy at will, but cursed with a natural state as a deformed hunchback. Recruited into the ranks of the mysterious Permanent Association, Modo quickly learns that his talent is ideal for espionage. Slade’s London is an engrossing mélange of the historically precise and the ridiculously imaginative. Working within the genre of steampunk, a mode of speculative fiction that posits a world of technological invention within the trappings of the Victorian Era, Slade crafts a world in which the sad reality of children “[sifting] through the mud at low tide for coal, bits of rope, anything to sell for a penny” exists alongside fantastic armoured men powered by gyroscopes made of “steel bones, the steam pumping out of holes in narrow iron plates.” Slade ensures that the fanciful elements never overwhelm the story through his careful handling of the gallant Modo and the canny Octavia, another young ward drafted into action. Modo’s unusual predicament is handled with aplomb, and children will empathize with his role as an outsider who craves acceptance, even as they revel in an outlandish plot that ends with a promise of further tales of danger. The Hunchback Assignments
is a terrific entertainment, exciting and whimsical. Slade’s novel should find ready acceptance among those young readers who crave a touch of darkness in their stories.
"My review could end here and now with one word, brilliant. Arthur Slade comes up with some absolutely amazing plots and this book tops them all. A compelling read, that kept me turning the pages almost faster than I could read them. Modo is a wonderful character, one whom the reader bonds with instantly and feels compassion for, making him a superb hero. Octavia is a strong, yet feminine female hero and the two make for a dynamic pairing.
Slade's writing is as strong as ever. The book contains some quite disturbing scenes which made for a scary read at times but at others the humour is high which gives this quite dark story an even balance of light moments. I loved everything about this book and could simply gush over it. 5/5 Rating."
--Back to Books Blog (Nicola Manning) ()