The Dark Deeps (Hunchback Assignments, Book Two), by Arthur Slade

Author: Arthur Slade
Genre: YA Historical Fantasy/Steampunk
Pages: 320
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Call number: Y Slade

First line: The boy hadn’t always been yellow.

Summary (taken from Goodreads): Transforming his appearance and stealing secret documents from the French is all in a day’s work for fourteen-year-old Modo, a British secret agent. But his latest mission—to uncover the underwater mystery of something called the Ictíneo—seems impossible. There are rumors of a sea monster and a fish as big as a ship. French spies are after it, and Mr. Socrates, Modo’s master, wants to find it first. Modo and his fellow secret agent, Octavia, begin their mission in New York City, then take a steamship across the North Atlantic. During the voyage, Modo uncovers an astounding secret. The Dark Deeps, the second book in Arthur Slade’s Hunchback Assignments series, is set in a fascinating Steampunk Victorian world. Modo’s underwater adventures and his encounters with the young French spy Colette Brunet, the fearless Captain Monturiol, and the dreaded Clockwork Guild guarantee a gripping read filled with danger, suspense, and brilliant inventions.

What I thought: I’d be hard-pressed to say whether this one exceeds the first or comes dead even. It’s always nice when a series keeps its momentum, both in terms of action and character development. Modo goes from hopping across the rooftops of London to being (albeit cordially) imprisoned on the tricked-out submarine Ictineo after he falls overboard during an attack on their steamship, leaving Octavia behind to relay the news of Modo’s possible death to Mr. Socrates. While the crew and captain of the Ictineo are zealots, with a one-sided focus on using pure science to advance an utopist agenda, their hidden underwater city near Iceland is both a marvel of technology and of tolerance, which pulls at Modo’s heartstrings as well as his intellect. Meanwhile, Hakkandottir and the Clockwork Guild are up to more of their nefarious plans, and they’ve sent after Modo a truly difficult enemy: Griff, the invisible boy.

Modo is in a difficult place in this book, even more so in the first. Managing his appearance is harder, since he is stuck in close quarters on a submarine, and he never fully manages to hide behind masks or his shape-changing ability effectively. This takes a physical toll, obviously, but an emotional one as well, since Modo is constantly on edge that someone will see his true appearance. Also, his desire to please Mr. Socrates by bringing home Captain Monturiol’s technology – thereby aiding the British Empire and sticking it to the French – is in direct contrast with his empathy for the Captain’s true intentions. She only wants to create a society where all people are equal and valued, and Modo, who looks like a monster, shares in that vision. All he wants is a place where he can show his true face without fear, where he can belong.

Of course, this book isn’t short on fascinating steampunk inventions or thrilling chases, escapes, and battles, but what I love about the series is that there’s much more than cool gadgetry and action scenes. This may prompt me to finally go out and get Slade’s other books to read while I’m waiting for the next installment.