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review 2018-08-16 00:57
Keeps Getting Better
Empire of Ruins - Arthur Slade

***Possible spoilers you’ve been warned***


This series is so consistent and does not disappoint. So we covered the city, we covered the sea in the second book. Now it’s time to go into the deep jungles and go on an exciting adventure that involves natives, flying ships, an Egyptian temple placed in Australia (I know right?), which results in an Indiana Jones type of adventure but involves secret agents, spies, and horrible clockwork falcons that can kill.


You can’t get more exciting than this. It starts off at a good pace and it’s steady. I enjoyed how during the ‘down times’ there is focus on Modo and Octavia’s character development. Modo still has some childish characteristics in him but as the novel progresses he slowly gets over that and the change stands out. You really do feel for him as his appearance starts to affect him, especially with his relationship with Octavia. His encounter with the natives help him to be comfortable in his own skin and I think because of this he starts acting more headstrong and does the talk back to Mr Socrates (which was a great scene to read. Wowwweee Modo, you do that clap back because Mr Socrates sure can’t take it haha)


I felt for Modo when he reveals his true likeness to Octavia. I get where she’s coming from though. She had this mental picture of Modo and it was nothing like the real thing so of course she wouldn’t know how to react. It hurt to read though. I couldn’t even imagine how crush Modo would have felt considering how much he feels for Octavia.


The plot in itself was super good and filled with action during the last half of the novel. The bad guys run with their tail between their legs in this one (enjoyable to read no doubt) but they come back with a vengeance towards the end. I rather expected the temple to be a little more of a challenge to go through (more traps please) but then perhaps that would prolong the adventure just a little too much.


I’m wanting to know what’s going to happen between Modo and Mr Socrates considering they had a falling out in the novel. This is going to get good and I hope the fourth and final novel will close this on a good note. Greatly recommend this series so far, pick it up and enjoy! It’s a great adventure!


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review 2018-06-05 20:00
The Hunchback Assignments / Arthur Slade
The Hunchback Assignments - Arthur Slade

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.


Although others have classified this book as young adult, I would consider it to be for a younger audience than that. I would recommend it for tweens and young teens. I’m rating it three stars, but that’s for the reading experience from my current vantage point as an adult. I think that if I’d read it at the right age, I would definitely have rated it at four stars.

The story is an interesting mix of steampunk elements and allusions to classic literature. The main character, Modo (the hunchback of the title) harks back to Quasimodo of Victor Hugo and Modo’s partner in crime, Octavia Milkweed, reminds me obliquely of La Esmeralda in The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Like Quasimodo & Esmeralda, Modo becomes enamoured with Octavia. Unlike Quasimodo, Modo has a paranormal ability to change his appearance for limited amounts of time. Because of his crush on Octavia, he spends quite a bit of time & effort to avoid being seen by her in his natural state—this is obviously a state of affairs that will progress in future volumes.

The story’s villain, Dr. Hyde, has some roots in Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde, without the virtuous Jekyl state. He performs many horrible experiments on both adults and children, but nothing vivid enough to leave younger readers with nightmares, unless they are ultra-sensitive. The bolts that he inserts in his experimental subjects reminded me strongly of the popular-culture version of Frankenstein’s monster.

Unlike so many of these alternate history Victorian stories, this one seems to be aimed more at boys than at girls, although I think any girl of the right age would definitely identify with Octavia. But with Modo as the narrator of the tale, the appeal to boys is greater. Since I think that reading for young men is a neglected demographic, I am glad to know about this fun, engaging series.

The author, Arthur Slade, will be attending the When Words Collide conference this August (2018) and I am glad that I read one of his books before hearing him speak there.

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review 2016-11-22 00:00
Amber Fang: The Hunted (Librarian. Assassin. Vampire. Book 1)
Amber Fang: The Hunted (Librarian. Assassin. Vampire. Book 1) - Arthur Slade 3.5 stars. I liked this short paranormal novel and its main character, a vampire librarian with fastidious eating habits. Nothing original but the author knows how to weave a well-paced tale, and does a good job with irony. It's both a standalone and the first installment of a series.

It was embarrassing when your food outsmarted you.
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review 2016-10-31 19:50
The Hunchback Assignments by Arthur Slade
The Hunchback Assignments - Arthur Slade

Set in the 1800s in England, the story starts off with Dr. Hyde working on his latest formula. It has rather gruesome side effects. Meanwhile, Mr. Socrates is looking for the unusual and he finds it in a very young boy named Modo who can, to some extent, change his appearance. Skipping ahead several years, Modo’s first true test comes when he’s left on his own in London. There he finds a way to make enough money for food and lodging, which leads him to meet Miss Octavia Milkweed. Together, they get pulled into a devious plot, one that has Dr. Hyde at the center.

This was a very fun story that gave a new twist to some old classics. Of course there is Dr. Hyde, who I think obviously comes from the story The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Then there is Modo himself. His full first name is Quasimodo, which is the important character from The Hunchback of Notre-Dame. Plus there’s a bit of The Wolf Man (a classic 1940s movie) going on too. And if I want to stretch things a bit (there’s the need for Modo to wear mask sometimes), perhaps there’s a touch of The Phantom of the Opera as well. Slade has done a great job of plucking certain elements out of these classics and spinning them into an entertaining tale set in a steampunk Victorian England.

Modo and Tavia (short for Octavia) were the stars of the show. We get to see snapshots of Modo growing up in the care of Mr. Socrates. He’s a stern figure and Modo gets most of his human contact from Mrs. Finchley, a governess and care taker, and Mr. Tharpa, his Indian fighting instructor. Although Tavia comes into the picture later, we learn about her upbringing through remarks she makes or her inner dialogue. Both of these kids (who meet when they are in their teens) have interesting backgrounds and Mr. Socrates is obviously shaping them for bigger things. I really liked that we aren’t sure for most of the book whether Mr. Socrates’s goals are good, bad, or simply selfish.

Dr. Hyde is one of those evil characters you enjoy hating on. He’s totally self-absorbed, running these cruel experiments solely for his own ends. He’s not the only evil one. There’s a fascinating lady with a steampunked mechanical arm and also a crippled man made whole by metal and gears. I do have to say I was a little disturbed by Dr. Hyde’s experiments on the dogs. Oh, how that made me want to see him ended!

The steampunk elements are definitely well in place with this Modo/Tavia adventure. I have read one of their other adventures, a graphic novel called Ember’s End, that was described as a steampunk western but had very little steampunky goodness in it. In contrast, The Hunchback Assignments does not disappoint in this aspect. There were small touches here and there throughout the story, and then the larger elements such as replacement body parts.

Modo himself is quite charming. His upbringing is not your standard schooling with extracurricular activities. His unusual looks could easily be called ugly but his morphing abilities give him some lee-way in fitting in. He’s clever and strong but also very shy about who sees his real face. There’s a lot to relate to in this kid. Tavia is also a treat, in different ways. She’s had to learn to be clever to avoid the pitfalls of street life, but she’s a different kind of clever than Modo. She’s also quite pretty and she knows it, which allows her to use her beauty to gain information. I was very glad to learn, as the story progresses, that she can also be a very loyal friend.

All told, this was a excellent start to a YA steampunk adventure series. I look forward to reading more of the series.

Narration: Jayne Entwistle was better than I thought she would be. I think because I eyeball read the graphic novel Ember’s End, I already had certain voices for Modo and Tavia. Entwistle hit Tavia’s voice perfectly. However, I was expecting a deeper voice for Modo as an adult. Now since he’s not an adult in this book, but ranges from a toddler to a 14-year-old, I think Entwistle did a really decent job. Also, she did have deeper male voices for the older men like Mr. Socrates. I loved her English accents. Also she was excellent at portraying the emotions of the characters.

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review 2016-10-31 19:19
The Dark Deeps by Arthur Slade
The Dark Deeps - Arthur Slade

Note: While this is Book 2 in the series, it works OK as a stand alone story. Reading the first book would give you more info on the characters, but their past relationships are covered well enough in this book that you don’t need to have read Book 1, The Hunchback Assignments, to enjoy this novel.

Set in a steampunked 1800s, Modo works hard to please his master, Mr. Socrates, with his espionage abilities. Stealing secrets from the French has been fun, but now he and Octavia are sent on a much more mysterious mission. Something has been floundering ships in the North Atlantic. Is it a trained whale? No one is certain and Mr. Socrates wants to be the first to know.

I really enjoyed Book 1 but I think I enjoyed this book a bit more. The characters are a bit more refined and the world better set in it’s fixture. I was pretty excited to see that the author drew upon two classics, Invisible Man and Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. Mixing these two themes with steampunk and then tossing in Modo, Octavia, and some new interesting characters, the book has charm written all over it.

The evil Clockwork Guild is still active with Dr. Hyde creating his metal-jawed dogs and a new type of human. Gryf, an unfortunate kid, is the subject of these experiments. Well, he’s the one that has survived long enough to be an important role in this story. Ms. Hackdotter, who has a mechanical arm, is the true villain in the book, sending chills down my spine as she toys with her captives. She’s devious, using her charm to maintain power over some of the Guild’s minions.

Meanwhile, we have two new and very interesting characters. There’s the French spy, Colette Brunet, who is half Japanese and who can speak English without a noticeable accent, letting her blend in easier. Then there’s Monturiol, who is a captain in her own right. Both of these ladies could be enemies or friends and Modo spends much of the book trying to figure out who his real foes are.

Even though Octavia and Modo started off on this adventure together, they soon became separated. While Modo is off with these new characters, Tavia is organizing a rescue party. I was a little sad that Tavia didn’t get to join Modo on the real adventure with Colette and Monturiol, but I was also glad that the author didn’t simply shelve her. The story keeps peeking back in on her and her rescue efforts. Meanwhile, Modo is learning to like a whole new cuisine and I quite enjoyed the little jokes that with it – dolphin’s milk indeed!

As a counterpoint to the adventure and humor, we have Modo’s struggle with his natural looks. He feels that people will despise him if they see his real face. Of course, this was enforced throughout his childhood by Mr. Socrates, even if he meant it in a good way. However, in this story, Modo often finds himself in a position where it is very difficult to keep his natural face under a mask or morphed into something pleasant. While my heart goes out a little to Modo during these scenes, I do find it a bit refreshing to have a male character so very concerned about his looks, instead of a female character.

The ending was a little bittersweet, which was quite suitable for the story. I like that not everything came up roses. Since Modo and Tavia are getting older, this story seems a little more subtle and adult than Book 1. I definitely like the direction this series is going in.

Narration: Jayne Entwistle continues to narrate the series. In this book Modo is 14 and I was hoping that his voice would have aged a little, but he still has a kid’s voice for the entirety of the book. Again, I first got to know Modo through Ember’s End, a graphic novel, so I came into these audiobooks with an idea already in my head of what he should sound like as a near adult. For Book 1, the kid’s voice was OK, even worked well in certain scenes. But now that he’s older, and also that he and Tavia are supposed to pretend to be married for some of their espionage work, I need his voice to be a bit older. Setting that aside, Entwistle did a good job with all the female characters and I loved the various accents she had to pull off. She’s also really good at imbuing the character voices with emotions.

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