Monday, February 01, 2010

The Hunchback Assignments

The Hunchback Assignments #1 by Arthur Slade , read by Jayne Entwistle, Listening Library, 2009 (review copy source: public library audiobook download) // Hardcover edition: Wendy Lamb Books, Random House, 2009. (review copy source: publisher provided)

Arthur Slade brings new life to Victor Hugo's 1831 classic, The Hunchback of Notre Dame and resets the story in Victorian England. His twist on the story mixes Robert Louis Stevenson's Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde into a steampunk adventure with human robots (or is it robotic humans?) and explosions and intrigue.

Initially, I wondered how much appeal this story would have with readers who are at an age when they probably feel like Quasimodo yet yearn to be Edward Cullen. Would they bond with a such an ugly and physically malformed main character?


Not only is Modo a kind and intelligent character but, as voiced by Jayne Entwistle, he is endearing and charming. His innocence about the world and his learning curve are similar to the eye opening time of life that starts in junior high school.

Mr. Socrates is a member of a mysterious society, the Permanent Association, whose mission is to safeguard the Empire, "Rule, Britannia" and all that. He rescues an abused and terrified hunchbacked child, Modo, from a traveling freak show and provides tutors who educate and train the boy. The child has a special power to physically change his appearance although it takes continuous concentration and physical effort to maintain a new visage for any length of time. Modo is isolated and protected from the outside world and even from his own appearance until he is fourteen years old.

When Modo is fourteen Mr. Socrates gives him a mirror and he sees himself for the first time in his life. Reeling from that shock, Socrates then turns him out onto the streets of London to test his survival skills, his intelligence and his special abilities. Surviving and even thriving, he is teamed with another teen, Octavia Milkweed, to infiltrate and defuse a plot to overthrow the British government.

Slade provides a wafting of romance as Modo yearns to be tall and handsome in order to gain Octavia's interest while she continuously wonders about the mask Modo wears--shades of Cyano's Roxanne and Hugo's Esmerelda.

I am looking forward to the next installment of Modo's story.
With the interest in the new Sherlock Holmes movie franchise, I think the timing for this series is excellent.

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