3.5 stars. 14 year old Modo has an odd talent: he can morph his disfigured body for limited periods of time. Since he was rescued from a freak show as a toddler by the mysterious Mr. Socrates, he has been trained to be a secret agent for the Victorian-era British Empire. Now it seems someone is kidnapping orphans for nefarious experiments, and Modo is sent to get to the bottom of things.
The Hunchback Assignments follows the time-honored recipe of how to start a series: introduce the characters, advance them through their early training (gonna need a montage, MONTAGE!), and put them in an adventure they’re not quite ready for, but can somehow manage to dig deep and resolve… but that’s just the tip of the iceberg, and there are more trials and tribulations dead ahead, so pick up that next volume ASAP! Arthur Slade rises significantly above simple formulaic writing through his strong characters and well-conceived setting. Too often steampunk takes itself so seriously that I don’t enjoy it; not the case here.
I liked the richness of relationships between characters. Even though many fit into archetypal categories (the mysterious benefactor, the serious instructor, etc.), there is enough depth to each of them to add a lot to the book through their interactions. The action is well-paced, with very little downtime between happenings and enough going on to keep the pages turning–I read it in a single day. I will definitely be back for more of The Hunchback Assignments!