Tuesday, August 15, 2017

The Hunchback Assignments, by Arthur Slade

Today I'm looking at another steampunk novel I just sort of picked up on a whim from the library, The Hunchback Assignments by Arthur Slade. The premise of this book is, ''What if Quasimodo from The Hunchback of Notre Dame was a secret agent for steampunk Victorian Britain? Also what if he was a shape-shifter?'' And that's...pretty much it. Otherwise it rolls along in the same ruts as a handful of other secret agent steampunk stories I've read.

I'm not saying that the book is bad. It's far more coherent than some of the other books within this sub-genre I've read, but aside from having a shape-shifting Quasimodo as the main character it doesn't deviate much from its type. It may just be a coincidence, or the fact that the premise ''steampunk secret agents'' is right up my alley so I end up reading or listening to a lot of these stories. But I'm beginning to notice that aside from a few details, there doesn't seem to be terribly much deviation. The protagonists are almost inevitably agents for some organization, perhaps only loosely affiliated with Queen Victoria, charged with protecting the British Empire. Our protagonists then run into a variety of enemies who are dead set on toppling the British Empire for a variety of reasons, whether it be legitimate critiques of Britain's imperialism, or just petty hatred for all things British.

This story is basically the same thing, although we get to see Modo's training by the mysterious Mr. Socrates. And I have to admit, I end up not liking Mr. Socrates because he very unambiguously sees Modo as an investment of time and resources rather than as a person. I was left with the distinct impression that if Modo ceased to be useful to Mr. Socrates, he would abandon Modo without a second's hesitation. So I'm not sure if Modo's really working for the good guys or not which does put a damper on the entire book.

I will also say I'm getting kind of tired of people being shocked by women wearing trousers in steampunk stories. It seems to be another almost obligatory addition to these stories along with plots to topple the British Empire and spunky female characters. Who inevitably wear trousers and shock men because of their ''improper'' behavior. Like, seriously guys. It's steampunk. It's going to be fiction with twenty-first century gender norms. Women wearing pants isn't all that surprising. In fact, women wore pants for athletic activities in the real-life late nineteenth century. Okay, technically they're bloomers, but they're effectively pants. And in 2017 women wear pants all the time. Having your female character wear pants in a steampunk novel isn't shocking or titillating or exciting.

Otherwise, the book's competent. Having a shape-shifting secret agent Quasimodo as the main character is different, but I can't say it varies that much from a lot of other steampunk secret agent books I've read.

- Kalpar

No comments:

Post a Comment