2nd book of The Hunchback Assignments
Wendy Lamb Books/Random House: NY, 2010.
In this sequel, Modo works with a different agent, an infamous French spy. Both have been sent to New York to discover a coded secret, as has an agent of the Clockwork Guild. The code is latitude and longitude coordinates for an area near Iceland. There is a community of disenfranchised citizens who have banded together to form their own self-sustaining country, relatively unaffected by others. A key factor for survival is a steampunk submarine, given that their homeland is under the ocean. All three agents are shipwrecked, not together. Colette is saved by the subterranean inhabitants. Modo forces the hatch open to sneak onto the submarine, and Griff sneaks on when Modo pries open the hatch. Their mission then is to find a way off the submarine and collect information until that becomes possible. The Icarians are hostile and wrecking ships that come within their territory, because they have new technology and are afraid the empirical countries will attack them.
In this book, Modo's abilities are primarily his shape-changing. The others are played down. He seems to be confused much of the time also, rather than using his sharp detective skills. Maybe to provide a contrast to Colette and allow Griff to have the upper hand for a while.
Besides the undersea community, submarine and early electrical usage, another steampunk theme is invisiblity. Griff has been rendered invisible through tonics administered to him for years as he grew up. He sees himself as invincible and has the manic behavior that often goes with that thinking.
Because the story concentrates specifically on Modo's shapeshifting, the concept is explored a bit. When he cannot stay shifted, through exhaustion or injury, he is emotionally conflicted as well. It looks like there may be evidence that his appearance will not be an obstacle in having closer relationships, but the situation is clouded. His innocence is another aspect explored in the story. Does his innocence contribute to the negative situation? Will it be used as an Achilles heel by the Clockwork Guild as they gather more information about him, as they now know about his shapeshifting?
The reading level is lower than it needs to be. While it gives access to kids who are not voracious readers, it also can negatively impact the opinion of loyal readers. This particular story is interesting enough that good readers will read it anyway, but I find it an annoying trend that books that sound like they should be YA are more and more written with a low reading level. My children are being forced to read adult books to find literature that is not too low. Dumbing down the books isn't doing anyone a favor, as it takes reading challenges to get to the point that the reader can understand college level textbooks.
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