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The Hunchback Assignments

The Hunchback Assignments

4.3 28
by Arthur Slade

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A gripping new series combines Steampunk, spying, and a fantastic Victorian London.

The mysterious Mr. Socrates rescues Modo, a child in a traveling freak show. Modo is a hunchback with an amazing ability to transform his appearance, and Mr. Socrates raises him in isolation as an agent for the Permanent Association, a spy agency behind Brittania’s


A gripping new series combines Steampunk, spying, and a fantastic Victorian London.

The mysterious Mr. Socrates rescues Modo, a child in a traveling freak show. Modo is a hunchback with an amazing ability to transform his appearance, and Mr. Socrates raises him in isolation as an agent for the Permanent Association, a spy agency behind Brittania’s efforts to rule the empire. At 14, Modo is left on the streets of London to fend for himself. When he encounters Octavia Milkweed, another Association agent, the two uncover a plot by the Clockword Guild behind the murders of important men. Furthermore, a mad scientist is turning orphan children into automatons to further the goals of the Guild. Modo and Octavia journey deep into the tunnels under London and discover a terrifying plot against the British government. It’s up to them to save their country.

From the Hardcover edition.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Calling to mind elements of The Hunchback of Notre Dame, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Frankenstein, Slade (Jolted: Newton Starker's Rules for Survival) presents a thrilling tale of an unusual and talented young man caught between two idealistic, ruthless organizations. Fourteen-year-old hunchback Modo has been raised from infancy by Mr. Socrates to use his shape-shifting abilities in service to the Permanent Association, secretive defenders of the status quo in Slade's steampunk Victorian England. Opposing the Permanent Association is the Clockwork Guild, whose hubristic ambitions are untempered by mercy or decency. Together with fellow agent Octavia Milkweed, Modo must discover why the guild is kidnapping and brainwashing—or worse—children and the scions of the upper class. Although Modo is too innocent to truly understand his situation, Slade makes it clear that Mr. Socrates' exploitation of the teenage agents undermines their effectiveness and mirrors the willingness of the guild to treat people as tools. With its self-loathing hero and exploration of themes of identity and self, the novel is more than the straightforward adventure it may appear. Ages 12–up. (Sept.)
School Library Journal
Gr 6–10—What do you get when you combine elements of Robert Louis Stevenson's Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Victor Hugo's The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and Alan Moore's League of Extraordinary Gentlemen? You get this exciting steampunk adventure. And though Slade borrows from the classics, the story is original and a fun read. Modo, a young hunchback, is rescued from a traveling freak show by the mysterious Victorian Englishman, Mr. Socrates. He is raised in isolation and trained to master his extraordinary physical powers, which include the ability to alter his deformed features and take on any appearance. When he's 13, Mr. Socrates presses him into service on behalf of the Permanent Association, a secret group dedicated to protecting Great Britain, and the teen is plunged headfirst into a race to prevent the government's destruction. Modo, an innocent who is often shocked by the vulgarities of street life, is paired with fellow agent Octavia Milkweed, a rescued urchin whose street smarts complement his immense physical talents. She is at once a partner, a foil, and a possible love interest. The protagonists are likable, the villains are chilling, and the story is action packed. Forays into the raw effluence of London's sewer system provide just enough "ick" factor. And, Slade gets the Victorian setting just right.—Anthony C. Doyle, Livingston High School, CA
Kirkus Reviews
Steampunk is hot, and here the tropes are further enlivened by literary shout-outs. Hunchbacked Modo (abandoned near Notre Dame as an infant) possesses the astounding ability to transform his appearance for a limited time. His mysterious benefactor serves England, but it is Modo and lovely fellow "agent" Octavia whose adventures save the day from mad Dr. Hyde's inventions and the plotting of the Clockwork Guild. Modo's palpable loneliness-his true face causes intense revulsion-evokes sympathy and makes his success that much more meaningful. Fast action carries the story through awkward dialogue; fortunately, doing and thinking rather than talking takes center stage. Regular glimpses from the villain's perspectives allows readers to fully appreciate Slade's inventive imagination-their technology involves robots, potions and imprisoned orphans. The escape of most of the baddies is almost welcome as it means they can all lock horns again, and the question of whether Modo will show Octavia his true self remains unanswered. An excellent start to a promising new series. (Fantasy. 12 & up)
VOYA - Sarah Flowers
Fans of the new Sherlock Holmes movie will find much to like in Slade's newest novel. Modo, a "monstrous, malformed boy" who also happens to be a shape-shifter, is rescued from a freak show and raised by the mysterious Mr. Socrates and the kind Mrs. Finchley. At fourteen, he is turned loose in Victorian London to fend for himself, and uses his unique skills to set up as a kind of private detective—a finder of lost things. Teaming up with another resourceful orphan, Octavia Milkweed, Modo must stop a pair of evil scientists who are plotting to destroy the British government by creating a powerful mechanized monster, using hundreds of kidnapped children and Queen Victoria's grandson, Prince Albert. Modo and Octavia are a delightful pair of protagonists, and their journeys through London, including its sewer system, are exciting and fast-paced. This title is an excellent addition to the steam-punk genre for younger readers. Reviewer: Sarah Flowers

Product Details

Random House Children's Books
Publication date:
Hunchback Assignments , #1
Sold by:
Random House
Sales rank:
File size:
2 MB
Age Range:
12 - 17 Years

Read an Excerpt



The large carriage rattled with grotesqueries--bones of cats and pigs strung up as wind chimes, bleached bear skulls dangling from wires, and three shrunken monkey heads mounted on posts. Their glass eyes stared out at the approaching winter. Bells that hung from reins tinkled, warning away wandering spirits. Four horses pulled the carriage, hip bones protruding from their bedraggled flesh, hides scarred by thousands of whippings. Huddled behind them in a thick, worn coat and muffler was a grizzled old man.

The tall, slim gentleman watched the carriage approach down a rutted, moonlit road. A cold breath of wind tested his knee-length greatcoat, but he didn't shiver. His close-cropped hair, white since birth, glowed in the dull light. His sharp eyes scanned the carriage, from the shivering driver to the clicking bones, and finally rested on the words Merveilles et Mort, written in red across the carriage's side. They appeared and disappeared with the swinging of a lantern.

Merveilles et Mort. Wonders and Death. He hoped that a wonder waited inside. He had spent his life and a good part of his fortune seeking out those with special talents. The reports about this particular sideshow traveling through Provence were extremely promising.

At one side of the carriage a flag snapped in the wind, its skull and crossbones flashing. Pirates? An almost imperceptible smile crossed the gentleman's lips. These weren't pirates. Charlatans and gypsy souls, yes. But pirates? No. He had met real pirates on the open seas; had summarily put them to death.

The gentleman held up his hand and the driver pulled on the reins. The horses slowed to a stop and snorted out frosty air, stomping their hooves.

"I would like to see your display," the gentleman said. His French was perfect, his accent Parisian.

"Oh, yes, yes, monsieur! I will be only too happy to show you." The old man set his whip into its holder and climbed down, babbling excitedly. "It is a marvelous collection! The greatest this side of the Nile. Balms to cure cholera. Elixirs to stave off death itself. I have a fine ruby necklace, straight from Cleopatra's tomb, that will make any arthritic condition vanish. And it will soften the skin, strengthen the bones--"

"I'm not interested in trinkets or balms," the gentleman cut in. "I want to see your prize attraction."

A door behind the bench slid open and a hag stuck her head out. Her eyes gleamed within a nest of wrinkles. She was a hundred years old if she was a day. "It is an expensive view," she rasped. "An extremely rare specimen."

The gentleman opened a gloved hand. Two golden coins caught the moonlight. "I assume this will cover it."

The hag nodded and waved a hand at the driver.

"Yes, yes, monsieur," the driver said, palming the coins. "Of course. Come right this way."

He led the gentleman to the rear door of the carriage. More bones were strung across the back, charms against death. The gentleman grinned. Only savages relied on such charms and magic to defeat the unknown. Learned men relied on logic.

The old man took a key from his pocket and unlocked the door with a brassy click. He swung it open, and warm, moist air belched out. The gentleman didn't turn his nose from the rotten smell. He had encountered much worse on the Crimean battlefields.

"Inside, that is where the prizes are!" The old driver tried to climb in, but the gentleman placed a hand on his shoulder and pulled him out of the way.
"I will enter alone."

"But, monsieur, only I can explain the origins. The magic! The mystery! The restorative power of each item."

"I don't need explanations."

The driver nodded and the gentleman stepped up into the fetid compartment, stooping to keep from banging his head. The cramped space was poorly lit by one lantern swinging on a wire. In a moment his eyes had adjusted and the details became clear. There were canopic jars; glass bottles with hairless, pink creatures; tiny coffins marked with hieroglyphics; shrunken heads dangling from wires; and the taxidermied body of a half-cat, half-rabbit. He had seen such stuffed creatures before, but this was a very good representation--it didn't even look as though it had been stitched together. He moved through the collection quickly, ducking under the lantern. He squeezed between a stuffed snake and a giant bat with marbles for eyes.

At the far end of the carriage was a cage draped in black cloth. He leaned in close. From behind the fabric he heard something wheezing. Without hesitation he pulled away the cover.

Two eyes, one larger than the other, goggled up at him in fright. Above them was a tinge of red hair set on a rough-hewn, pockmarked skull. The gentleman flinched; he had been expecting something ugly but this was beyond his imagining. A true wretch of a creature crouched in the cage, pressing its back against the bars. It wore a jackal fur vest, which was ill-fitting due to the enormous hump on its back. Pity wormed its way into the gentleman's heart.

The unfortunate monster couldn't be more than a year old. It was standing upright, but the small cage forced it to bend its neck, emphasizing its hump. On the bottom of the cage a plaque read l'enfant du monstre.

The gentleman could not stop staring. The specimen's arms looked strong; its legs were unnaturally muscled, but bowed and crooked. Nature had been particularly cruel.

The thing was shivering, but seemed to grow curious. It blinked, mewling softly. The gentleman peered at it impassively. This had been a wasted journey; three days' travel from London to Provence only to find a child imprisoned by its ugliness. His informant had spoken so highly of this prize, had said the creature was beyond description and value. Ah! That scoundrel would feel the lash of his anger. The gentleman had lost time, when he had none to lose. All the while England's enemies would be inching closer to their goals.

He turned away, but the creature mewed again and whispered, "Puh-puh-ere?"
Father? The gentleman stopped. The voice sounded so human, so mournful, and it struck a chord in the man's heart. Years ago he'd had a wife who died giving birth to their child. A boy, who had only lived long enough for his father to hold him. The gentleman swallowed. It was all in the past and best forgotten.

Yet, he turned back to the creature. By its size and shape he decided it too was a boy. A monstrous, malformed boy. The man considered whether he had any food in his pockets. Foolishness. It was time to leave.

From the Hardcover edition.

Meet the Author

Arthur Slade has published several novels for young readers, including Jolted: Newton Starker’s Rules for Survival, Megiddo’s Shadow, Tribes, and Dust, which won the Governor General’s Award for Children’s Literature. He lives in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, with his wife, Brenda Baker. Visit him on the Web at www.arthurslade.com.

From the Hardcover edition.

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The Hunchback Assignments: The Hunchback Assignments Series, Book 1 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 28 reviews.
BuriedUnderBooks More than 1 year ago
Terrific steampunk for the young and not-so-young 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. The Hunchback Assignments UK Cover 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.
StephanieTiner More than 1 year ago
Modo was born malformed and misshapen but also with a very unique and marvelous gift. After being saved from the life of the traveling freak show by the mysterious Mr. Socrates, Modo is trained to be an agent for the Permanent Association. When Modo stumbles upon an organization planning to attack the British Parliament, he teams up with fellow agent, Octavia Milkweed, to take them down before it is too late. I was expecting more. I'm not sure exactly what, but more. However, given the grade level of this novel, I am not too surprised that I was a little let down. It is, after all, a middle grade novel. That said, this book was an easy read. I liked that Modo resembled the Modo from the Disney film. I was surprised by the other characters I met in this book, mainly Dr. Hyde and Mr. Socrates, and found it interesting that they weren't like the characters I remember from their own stories. I did not like that this book was both its own story but at the same time still the classic story in many ways, at least what I remember of it, it has been a while since I have read the classical version. All in all, it was a decent, middle grade novel and I would recommend it to middle grade aged readers. I am, at this point, unsure if I will continue to read this series.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
wordforteens More than 1 year ago
I love Victorian London. Set a book there, be it in the courts or in the slums, and there's a good chance I'll want to pick it up. (I blame the Parasol Protectorate series for this.) So when I saw this, combined with a new version of Quasimodo, I thought, hey, why not? I liked the plot and the mechanics used in this story a lot; that, at least, was fun to read and see what would happen. I wasn't really sure what they were building and what would happen next and it was fun to find out when it was time for that. I wouldn't say I was kept on the edge of my seat, but I can blame the characters for that. Did I find them interesting? Sure. Mr. Socrates and Modo were quite interesting. (And the girl who comes in later, I adored.) But as the story is told through Modo, I couldn't help but find him rather... boring. I mean, sure, he's a horribly disfigured teenage boy with amazing superstrength and the ability to shapeshift his face, but his personality was nothing special to me. I've been done wit the story for a few days upon writing this review and that's all I can tell you about his character. I could prattle on about the girl, but she's not the main character. And that was what kept me from really liking this book, I think - Modo's lack of personality. Yes, he's supposed to camouflage and be generally dull, but we're in his head! Gimme some spark or something!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I loved the action,suspense, and mystery. Great for boys and girls. Definately worth the buy.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I liked this book a lot.
Coreena More than 1 year ago
This is a fun steampunk novel for the middle school age group. There is so much adventure and imagination in this book that is is sure to appeal to a wide range of readers. Modo is an incredibly ugly, hunchbacked young orphan who can change his appearance at will He was brought up in isolation by the mysterious Mr. Socrates to be a secret agent. I really felt for him in this book, he is so young and sheltered in so many ways, but so smart and able to fight at the same time. The scenes where he tries to come to terms with his appearance are touching and really add a human element to the book. Modo teams up with Octavia Milkweed, a beautiful but street smart young woman who is also part of Mr. Socrates' secret organization. Mr Socrates is a shady and mysterious character who heads an ultra secret agency that is trying to protect the British Empire. Then there are the supporting characters and bad guys who also add so much to the book. The crazy Dr Hyde, is brilliant with all of his potions and clockwork mechanisms. Hakkandottir is an amazing, diabolical evil woman who kids will love to hate. Slade throws these characters into horrifying scenarios where Modo and Octavia have to use their brains and instincts if they are to defeat the Clockwork Guild and their horrible, yet fascinating, scientific plans. I really enjoyed the setting of Victorian London and the throwing together of the Hunchback and Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde stories to create something unique and interesting. The clockwork gadgets and science aspects of the book mixed with well to create exciting action, mystery and intrigue. Then there is Slade's writing, which is sure to keep kids reading. This book will appeal to both boys and girls who have an interest in history and science, as well as those who like fast paced adventure.
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Sensitivemuse More than 1 year ago
This book was a real fun and enjoyable read. The beginning of the book started off as intriguing and interesting that you were immediately curious as to what was going to happen next. The description of the different inventions and machinery in the book were well written and could be easily pictured in one's mind while reading. I really did like the plot, it was fast, lots of action on the pages, lots of intrigue (I love intrigue!) and mystery, and naturally it story leaves you with what's next on Modo's agenda. There is plenty of steampunk here for those that love the genre. I especially like the clockwork birds. Modo is very easily liked and he's your typical "although he's deformed, he's got a heart of gold" type of character. Mr Socrates is your typical "boss" character, stonefaced, hardly any emotion, and usually is just there to tell others what to do. All characters in the book are likable and fun in their own way(Octavia is very interesting). I really did like the secret society concept used in the book. It gives the plot more mystery and especially if a member of royalty involved it enhances the mystery and intrigue even more. Yet even after being finished with the book there are still questions needed to be answered about this society and it's obvious that we have not seen the last of them yet. What bugged me about the book was the animal experimentation.Yet it wasn't graphical and bloody, but the idea still bothered me though. Another thing I didn't like is sometimes the description - a particular description of a machine was very hard for me to picture. Then again that could be because I'm not so mechanically inclined - perhaps other readers may find it easier to figure it out. Overall, a great book for children and adults alike, an even bigger treat for those that are into steampunk fiction. This is a great start to a very exciting series and I'm definitely looking forward to reading the second book (which in fact, I have taken out of the library recently).
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
TeensReadToo More than 1 year ago
Mysterious Mr. Socrates found a one-year-old child in the back of a gypsy cart with the label "L'Enfant du Monstre." Thinking the child was just physically deformed, Mr. Socrates turned to go; however, the toddler called out to him, and when he looked again, a reformation was taking place. This infant was able to change his facial features, so the deformity disappeared for a few moments. Mr. Socrates immediately recognized the value in this ability. Four short years later, Modo shows advanced intellectual ability. He is able to read, complete complex mathematical equations, and study languages. Mrs. Finchley, a governess, has been hired by Mr. Socrates to care for him and Tharpa, an Indian man, has been retained to teach him combat skills. The only stipulations on Modo's life are that he cannot leave the three rooms that Mr. Socrates has declared as his and that he must concentrate only on studies that will increase his intelligence. Though he can feel and even see a protrusion on his back, he is not allowed to see himself until at five, when he is given a mirror by Mr. Socrates. Modo is devastated by what he sees. His face, in fact his whole head, is deformed. When Modo turns fourteen, Mr. Socrates finally allows him out of his rooms. Unfortunately, the journey that Mr. Socrates takes him on is not the gift he had hoped it would be. On the train to London, Mr. Socrates informs him that he will be aiding in the protection of England. His first task is to survive on the London streets without warning or help. As the story progresses, Modo succeeds in that first task, so Mr. Socrates and a secret society called the Permanent Association send him on more difficult and dangerous assignments. Together with another agent, fifteen-year-old Octavia Milkweed, he undertakes a series of adventures in an effort to save the grandson of the queen. Slade's gripping tale touches the heart, and readers will root for Modo and Octavia as they show the adults around them that loving others and offering mercy are among the strongest traits people should desire. The most important theme in the book is that physical appearances do not always reflect a person's heart.
Lindsey_Miller More than 1 year ago
To be honest, I was a little disappointed in this book. Perhaps it's that my hopes were so high to begin with, but they weren't quite met. Given the overview, there was certainly a recipe for an excellent tale-steampunk, Victorian England, the hunchback of Notre Dame as the main character, but as a teenager, and having been raised completely differently-but the execution was a little lacking. Specifically, I felt like the story was rushed, and Slade didn't take the time to relish in the scenes, the action, the science, etc. Give it a hundred to two hundred more pages, and I think the whole story would really come alive. I would care more about the characters. They would have a bit more time to develop, especially Modo, who could use a lot more writing about his magical power as well as his training. We need more character backstory, more development, and more description about everything involved. The ending certainly leaves it open for a sequel or a few, and I'm hoping they get better with each installment. -Lindsey Miller, www.lindseylibrary.com