Note: While this is Book 2 in the series, it works OK as a stand alone story. Reading the first book would give you more info on the characters, but their past relationships are covered well enough in this book that you don’t need to have read Book 1, The Hunchback Assignments, to enjoy this novel.
Set in a steampunked 1800s, Modo works hard to please his master, Mr. Socrates, with his espionage abilities. Stealing secrets from the French has been fun, but now he and Octavia are sent on a much more mysterious mission. Something has been floundering ships in the North Atlantic. Is it a trained whale? No one is certain and Mr. Socrates wants to be the first to know.
I really enjoyed Book 1 but I think I enjoyed this book a bit more. The characters are a bit more refined and the world better set in it’s fixture. I was pretty excited to see that the author drew upon two classics, Invisible Man and Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. Mixing these two themes with steampunk and then tossing in Modo, Octavia, and some new interesting characters, the book has charm written all over it.
The evil Clockwork Guild is still active with Dr. Hyde creating his metal-jawed dogs and a new type of human. Gryf, an unfortunate kid, is the subject of these experiments. Well, he’s the one that has survived long enough to be an important role in this story. Ms. Hackdotter, who has a mechanical arm, is the true villain in the book, sending chills down my spine as she toys with her captives. She’s devious, using her charm to maintain power over some of the Guild’s minions.
Meanwhile, we have two new and very interesting characters. There’s the French spy, Colette Brunet, who is half Japanese and who can speak English without a noticeable accent, letting her blend in easier. Then there’s Monturiol, who is a captain in her own right. Both of these ladies could be enemies or friends and Modo spends much of the book trying to figure out who his real foes are.
Even though Octavia and Modo started off on this adventure together, they soon became separated. While Modo is off with these new characters, Tavia is organizing a rescue party. I was a little sad that Tavia didn’t get to join Modo on the real adventure with Colette and Monturiol, but I was also glad that the author didn’t simply shelve her. The story keeps peeking back in on her and her rescue efforts. Meanwhile, Modo is learning to like a whole new cuisine and I quite enjoyed the little jokes that with it – dolphin’s milk indeed!
As a counterpoint to the adventure and humor, we have Modo’s struggle with his natural looks. He feels that people will despise him if they see his real face. Of course, this was enforced throughout his childhood by Mr. Socrates, even if he meant it in a good way. However, in this story, Modo often finds himself in a position where it is very difficult to keep his natural face under a mask or morphed into something pleasant. While my heart goes out a little to Modo during these scenes, I do find it a bit refreshing to have a male character so very concerned about his looks, instead of a female character.
The ending was a little bittersweet, which was quite suitable for the story. I like that not everything came up roses. Since Modo and Tavia are getting older, this story seems a little more subtle and adult than Book 1. I definitely like the direction this series is going in.
Narration: Jayne Entwistle continues to narrate the series. In this book Modo is 14 and I was hoping that his voice would have aged a little, but he still has a kid’s voice for the entirety of the book. Again, I first got to know Modo through Ember’s End, a graphic novel, so I came into these audiobooks with an idea already in my head of what he should sound like as a near adult. For Book 1, the kid’s voice was OK, even worked well in certain scenes. But now that he’s older, and also that he and Tavia are supposed to pretend to be married for some of their espionage work, I need his voice to be a bit older. Setting that aside, Entwistle did a good job with all the female characters and I loved the various accents she had to pull off. She’s also really good at imbuing the character voices with emotions.