Steampunk? Say what? That was my reaction the first time I heard the term. But I say old chap, I am onboard now!
Steampunk is a sub-genre of science fiction/alternative history set in the Victorian era when steam was a main source of power. According to Wikipedia the category has been around since the 1980’s, though I’ve only recently heard it.
Now, however, I see steampunk everywhere. The 1999 movie Wild Wild West with Will Smith is a perfect example. President Ulysses Grant has to be saved from a giant steam powered spider. Steampunk!
The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is a good steampunk movie comparison to this month’s book because of the literary references. This 2003 moviemakes use of Tom Sawyer, Captain Nemo of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, and The Invible Man, among others.
The Hunchback Assignments brings to mind, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, of course, and also Frankenstein’s Monster, and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
Set in 1860’s England, this first book in a series follows a couple of young protagonists raised separately to be agents for a secret society. Modo was only a year old when Mr. Socrates purchased the hunchback from a traveling freak show, and took him home to instruct.
Raised in strict isolation, Modo has been schooled academically as well as in the arts of combat. His powers of observation are tested frequently, and Mr. Socrates allows no frivolity. Fortunately Mrs. Finchley manages to show him a little love, and the lighter side of literature on occasion.
On top of his learned skills Modo also has the power, for brief periods of time and with great effort, to transform his misshapen face and body into any human countenance he chooses. And oh how he would choose not to be forever ugly.
In spite of the hardships he’s endured Modo is a kind and gentle soul. This makes it all the more shocking when Mr. Socrates dumps him on the streets of London, and he must fend for himself.
It is here that Modo meets Octavia Milkweed. They work together, at first unknowingly, to bring down the Clockwork Guild. This nasty group is kidnapping children and turning them into automatons in and effort to destroy the British government.
It’s all very big and complicated, and at some points rather gruesome. There’s a bit of cruelty in the prologue that grounds the reader in the pseudoscience of this fictional world, and gives him/her a big clue as to who the bad guys are, which isn’t as obvious as you might think. While reading the prologue I had to remind myself – it’s only fiction. I was glad I forged on.
The Hunchback Assignments is for older kids, grades 6 and up, and is a wild adventure not for the faint of heart.