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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 2016-10-31 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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text 2015-11-29 14:35
Books read (or not!) in November
Wheel of the Infinite - Martha Wells
A Calculated Life - Anne Charnock
The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl Vol. 1: Squirrel Power - Ryan North,Erica Henderson
The Fifth Season - N.K. Jemisin,Robin Miles
The Hunchback Assignments - Arthur Slade
Welcome to Night Vale: A Novel - Jeffrey Cranor,Joseph Fink
Princeless Book One: Save Yourself - Jung-Ha Kim,Jeremy Whitley,M. Goodwin,Dave Dwonch

Books started: 12 (including the 2 I'm currently reading)

Books finished: 7

Books not finished: 3

 

Genre breakdown: All SFF, if you also include the two graphic novels which kind of fall under that category. Kind of. Except for maybe one which is more steampunk/alternate history.  

 

What progress made on Mount TBR? A bit of a quiet month and I added a few new books to the mountain, so not much progress made overall...

 

Book of the month: No contest, it had to be The Fifth Season. What a fantastic book, a great start to a new series and I want the next one now. *pouts*

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review SPOILER ALERT! 2015-11-24 14:07
The Hunchback Assignments - Arthur Slade
The Hunchback Assignments - Arthur Slade

To be perfectly honest, I'm not even sure how The Hunchback Assignments came to be on my TBR list in the first place. I mean, someone must have recommended it at some point and it stayed there, lurking, till I found that the ebook was on sale and picked it up.

 

As you may have guessed from the title, The Hunchback Assignments features Quasimodo as one of its characters - in this particular story, he's found as a small child being exhibited in a travelling freakshow and bought by Mr Socrates, who has him educated in isolation. Modo, as he is called in this book, doesn't realise that he is being trained to work as a secret agent until the day Mr Socrates takes him away from everything he knows and into London, where he promptly abandons him. Modo's final test is to see if he can survive on his own despite being a teenager in a strange place with no resources at first.

 

Naturally, he manages to do so (otherwise this would be quite a short book) and initially sets himself up as a private investigator. At this point, Modo takes on a client who has asked him to find her brother, though we later discover that she is in fact another of Mr Socrates' agents. The missing 'brother' is involved on the periphery with a scheme where various bad folks are creating a) a mixture that allows someone to be mind-controlled and b) a giant robot powered by people. Since we already have Quasimodo involved here, it should come as no surprise that the main scientist behind all of this is one Dr Hyde, another out-of-copyright character.

 

Anyway, this book might be a little too much in terms of body horror for some people - personally, I found the opening section about experimentation on dogs almost a deal-breaker. By the end of this particular book, since there are more in the series, Modo is falling for his female counterpart who doesn't know that he doesn't look like she thinks he does, as he is able to transform his face into normality for a limited period of time.

 

It's an interesting enough book, though I didn't find it particularly compelling and could easily have put it down at more than one point. The villains are all moustache-twirling evildoers with no clear reason why they're doing what they're doing except that they're evil. The Hunchback Assignments is also another of those books set in London but written by a non-Brit so the occasional thing made me go 'huh?' and jolted me a little out of the plot momentarily. There are more books in this series but I won't be bothering with them, since there's plenty more on my TBR pile that appeals more...

 

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