The Hunchback Assignments by Arthur Slade.
Wendy Lamb Books/Random House: NY, 2009.

Modo was rescued by Mr. Socrates, a wealthy English gentleman, from a traveling freak show and raised in seclusion by Mrs. Finchley, an actress-housekeeper-governess Mr. Socrates hired for the task. He was trained in self-defense and stealth by Tharpa, Mr. Socrates's assistant-bodyguard from India, also saved by Mr. Socrates. He is being trained for a special career.

Not far into the book, Mr. Socrates drops Modo off in the heart of London telling him he must now fend for himself. As difficult as this turn of fortune is for him, Modo not only is trained in survival, but he can also change his appearance, an amazing quality which drove Mr. Socrates to search him out to begin with. He struggles for an undetermined amount of time until he can accrue enough money to set himself up in a hotel apartment. He starts to secretly solve cases as a private detective. Meanwhile, Mr. Socrates has been watching his progress, and when a case goes badly, Tharpa pulls him out of the fire, literally.

Modo is then recruited into the secret Permanent Association of which Mr. Socrates is a board member, with the professed purpose of securing English society. He learns that a new acquaintance, Octavia (another orphan), is also an operative of the group, and the two are employed together to work on recent mysterious disappearances in the news.

This novel is the first of a steampunk spy mystery series. It takes place in Victorian England. The arch enemy of Mr. Socrates's secret society is the Clockwork Guild. The leader of the group is Hakkandottir, a woman with an artificial arm. A woman with whom Mr. Socrates has a personal grudge match. She employs a strongman with other artificial body parts and an engineer expert in automata who was rejected by London's Society of Science due to what they considered disturbing exploration. Indeed, Dr. Hyde is assembling a giant monstrosity powered by the life force of people, in this case children, to be used as the ultimate weapon in the destruction of England.

The Hunchback Assignments starts an exciting new series. This book is really just an intro to the cast and two rival societies. Modo the hunchback keeps his identity a secret even from Octavia, thanks to his morphing. The story is his growth and rise to super-spy status. Octavia has her own story to tell. Both are great characters, neither particularly happy with the world. I think that each will play a part in shaping the other's character. Modo is extremely sweet and idealistic. Octavia trusts nothing but herself. They will make a good team in the books to come. Then, Tharpa seems to be always in the background, ready to help in times of crisis.>/p>

Can't wait to start the next book.

related-disfigured persons, spies, supernatural, London, Victorian England, 19th century British history, detective stories, mysteries, automatons, orphans, science fiction
RL=7th and up

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