Illustrator: Christopher Steininger
Publisher: Arthur Slade (2014)
Length: 88 pages
Note: This book is a stand-alone adventure that follows two of the characters from Slade’s The Hunchback Assignments series. It works quite well.
Modo and Tavia are trained secret agents with the British Empire and have been sent on assignment to the Wild West town of Ember’s End. Set in the mid 1800s, the story is lush with western archetypes but also with a few all-too-often left out aspects of the Wild West, such the ethnic diversity of the time and location. I was pleasantly surprised to see the story had some extras in turbans throughout the town. Also, the ladies weren’t relegated to the brothels or being ranch wives.
This book, and The Hunchback Assignments series, are touted as steampunk. There was a touch of steampunk goodness in this book, but it was really minor. I kept waiting for that to become part of the story, whether as part of a character or simply background. The town does use pneumatic tubes to shoot messages around quickly. And much later in the story a character is revealed to be part steampunky robot. So my only little quibble is that this story could have used a bit more steampunk.
Tavia does like to dress in style but she’s also a practical woman, able to keep up with Modo in the field. Modo himself is a curious character, often keeping his face covered. He has a special ability when it comes to working in disguise. I liked the camaraderie between these two and could tell from the start they would always have each other’s backs.
Ember’s End is a strange place. The first building our heroes head to is the town saloon, which also happens to be the town library. They learn from the barkeep/librarian that there is no whiskey to serve, but they have a fine fresh milk from a Jersey cow. Also, the now-departed mad scientist who founded the town (Mr. Ember), put a field over the entire town that prevents gunpowder from working. Of course this renders firearms useless. So here we readers are, in the depths of the Wild West with no whiskey and no gun fights. Never fear! There’s still plenty of action.
Ember’s adult daughter has her secrets and is apparently at the heart of the mystery that surrounds Ember’s End. As Tavia and Modo try to untangle this mystery and set things right, they comes across a gang of worthy foes including a ninja, because every great steampunk Western should have a ninja!. With no bullets to trade at decent velocity with the bad guys and no half-aged whiskey to toss in their faces, our heroes have to get creative.
The humor is pretty good with this story as well. Tavia and Modo trade it back and forth in good natured jabs. Then there is the librarian/barkeep who has several other town jobs as well. I also enjoyed the preemptive undertaker. In fact, it felt like a nod to the the old Spaghetti Westerns. It’s a fun story for both kids and adults and I look forward to reading more Modo & Tavia adventures.
Illustration: This graphic novel is lush with color and detail. Christopher Steininger did a good job catching the rust reds that make up a good chunk of the Southwestern pallet. I liked that the point of view was often switching, showing the scene from far away and then up close, etc. Modo’s eyes are very expressive!
What I Liked: Fun story for all ages; the Wild West setting; perhaps some hidden nods to classic Western movies/TV shows; plenty of humor and action; interesting with no bullets and no whiskey; the ladies and minorities are portrayed as real people and not just shoved into stereotypical roles; great illustration.
What I Disliked: This book could have used a bit more steampunk.