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EMPIRE OF RUINS by Arthur Slade


From the Hunchback Assignments series, volume 3

by Arthur Slade

Age Range: 10 - 14

Pub Date: Sept. 13th, 2011
ISBN: 978-0-385-73786-9
Publisher: Wendy Lamb/Random

Brittania’s secret weapon, shape-changing orphan Modo, returns for a third steampunky, jingoistic outing.

Somewhere in the Australian rain forest, the last remnant of an Egyptian civilization hides the God Face, a fabled treasure that drives men mad. Modo and fellow teen agent Octavia are on the case again, this time accompanied by their supervisor, Mr. Socrates, and his Indian servant/friend, Tharpa. As in the previous volumes, dialogue feels forced, especially the “reparting” (as Seven Dials–raised urchin Octavia calls the witty banter), and far too much internal monologue is focused on Modo’s face, even when he is not “speaking.” Fast-paced action sequences include airships, potentially dangerous natives and, of course, the Clockwork Guild and the wicked, metal-handed Miss Hakkandottir. These mostly balance the flaws, and the world continues to be delightfully inventive, although a cursed Egyptian tomb falls flatter than orphan-powered machines beneath London (The Hunchback Assignments, 2009) or an undersea Utopia (The Dark Deeps, 2010). An undercurrent of pro-British, racist behavior from Mr. Socrates may leave some readers uncomfortable, but Modo seems poised to challenge these attitudes, and he defies some of them here. Perhaps most important to fans, Modo finds that his appearance and amazing shape-changing skills may be linked to the tomb, and he may not be as singular as he feared.

Another fun outing, sure to please series fans. (Steampunk. 10-14)