The Hunchback Assignments by Arthur Slade

Author: Arthur Slade
Genre: YA Fantasy / Steampunk
Call Number: Y Slade

This is a fast-paced adventure with a truly unique and sympathetic hero — Modo, a heavily deformed child rescued from a traveling freak show by a mysterious benefactor, Mr. Socrates. Modo grows up alone with only a nurse and an instructor for company, training in stealth, acrobatics, fighting, mathematics, history, politics, and he is not allowed to look into a mirror until he is five years old. His reflection horrifies him, but he learns that he has the incredible ability to shift his physical appearance to look like anyone else. This is when he learns he has been training to be a spy for the Permanent Association, a secret organization dedicated to protecting the British Empire. Though it strains him greatly, his shape-shifting ability makes him an ideal spy, if he can learn to use it properly. To see if Modo’s training has prepared him, Mr. Socrates drops him penniless in the middle of London, where he has to survive on his own. Modo, only fourteen years old, uses his training and abilities to start his own detective agency, wearing masks when he is not shape-shifting in order to blend in. Eventually, he is given his first assignment with the Permanent Association, teaming up with another young agent, Octavia Milkweed, and together they uncover a nefarious plan orchestrated by the Clockwork Guild to take over the British government. (I won’t spoil all of the Clockwork Guild’s diabolical plans, except to say that part of it involves a giant clockwork automaton waging war on the city.)

This story takes place in an alternative Victorian London that is smoky and atmospheric, with plenty of inventive steampunk science worked in seamlessly. The plot races along at a breakneck pace, but what I really love about this story is Modo – he is crafty but also compassionate, and his insecurity about his true appearance , especially after he meets Octavia, is heart-breaking.


Attica, by Garry Kilworth

Author: Garry Kilworth
Publisher: Little, Brown
Genre: Juv/YA Fantasy
Call number: JPB Kilworth

Just like valuable antiques or meaningful mementos found buried amid junk in your attic, Attica is a rare treasure in an unassuming package, the kind you pick up without expectations and are blown away by. Seriously, I love this book.

Step-siblings Jordy, Chloe, and Alex move into a duplex they share with their crotchety landlord. He sends them into the attic in search of a lost pocket watch – one that means a lot to him – and that’s where the adventure begins. One moment they are in their normal attic, searching through piles of dusty junk, but as they move further into the space, they begin to notice strange things. No matter how long they walk, the attic never ends. The walls to either side are no longer visible. Worse, they begin to feel that they are being followed. Soon, they are stumbling across villages of wardrobes and washtubs inhabited by strange, pale people who grow their own food with hydroponics, and they traverse all manner of terrain, including forests of coat racks, hills of typewriters, plains of empty floor boards, and a lake that is the largest water tank ever. They also run into all manner of creatures. Some are humans who abandoned their normal lives for the lure of Attica and became bortrekkers, adventurers and explorers, or board combers, treasure hunters who are obsessed with collecting one particular item. Some creatures are man-made objects that, after being mistreated by humans in the normal world, have developed malevolent personalities, like the mannequins who dress up their human prey in humiliating garments and mock them before killing them. Their search for the pocket watch becomes a search for the way home, but by the time they find it, one of them may not want to return.

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Starclimber, by Kenneth Oppel

starclimberThis is the third book in a great series, after Airborn and Skybreaker. Matt Cruse is still a pilot-in-training at the Academy, and he’s moonlighting as an aerotug pilot in Paris, working on the Celestial Tower that will one day allow people to travel into outer space. Kate is also in Paris, attempting to earn scientific credibility despite her research on life forms that some scientists still refuse to believe exist. Their relationship has grown more serious and yet their class issues are becoming an even bigger roadblock — though Kate meets Matt’s working-class family, she still hasn’t told her wealthy parents about Matt. When Matt foils a terrorist attack on the Celestial Tower (as he is wont to do), he’s invited to return to Canada to train for a new, top-secret mission: the first flight into outer space. Kate is also invited on this mission, as part of the scientific team who will observe life in outer space. Matt undergoes rigorous training to become an astralnaut, but he almost doesn’t make it aboard; at the same time, Kate’s parents tell her she is only allowed to go if she agrees to marry a man of their choice. Matt, being supremely lucky as always, manages to secure himself a place on the ship, and Kate, being as hard-headed as she is, agrees to marry this man but doesn’t intend to follow-through. (Does she tell Matt this? What do you think?) During the journey, there’s tension between Matt and Kate; between Kate and the other scientist on board, who happens to be her most vocal dissenter; and between Matt and an older, dismissive astralnaut, but none of that matters when the astral cable supporting their ship breaks, putting them all at risk.

Review behind the cut