The Hunchback Assignments
Narrated by Jayne Entwistle
Listening Library, 2009
Unabridged Audio Book
Modo is an abandoned child in Victorian London, a child with such a fearsome appearance that no one could possibly care for him. Mr. Socrates, though, a mysterious gentleman of means, takes Modo in and raises him in a somewhat aloof fashion but with a purpose in mind. A governess and a man with martial skills are his only companions and teachers but the approval of Mr. Socrates is of utmost importance to Modo.
Besides the education and training he has received, Modo has learned to develop and control, to a certain extent, his unusual physical powers. Unwilling to let the world see his face, he wears a mask, but he also has the ability to transform his appearance for brief periods. This ability is of special importance when he is suddenly forced to fend for himself as a test of his readiness to take his place as a spy at the age of 14 for the Permanent Association, secretive defenders of Queen Victoria and Great Britain. Fend for himself he does, finding that he can support himself as a detective, and thus he meets a client, Miss Octavia Milkweed, and embarks on a most unusual case.
Technically, this is young adult fiction, but many elements make it very appealing to an older reader who will recognize many of the literary shout-outs. A combination of steampunk, fantasy, mystery, espionage and action adventure lead to great fun and the villainous Clockworld Guild, with the mad scientist Dr. Hyde and his dastardly invention, may prove to be an ongoing adversary for Modo, Octavia and the Permanent Association.
I thoroughly enjoyed this and will look forward to future installments; I wish Mr. Slade would write faster. I do have to say he has a terrific website (see the link above) and this is one time I think the UK and US covers are equally cool. Also, Jayne Entwistle, already one of my favorite narrators, has done a great job again.
Very highly recommended for young adults and adults.
Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, March 2010.