Monday, July 21, 2014
CURIOSITY by Gary Blackwood for MMGM
Curiosity by Gary Blackwood (April 2014, Dial, for ages 9 to 13)
Synopsis (from the publisher): Philadelphia, PA, 1835. Rufus, a twelve-year-old chess prodigy, is recruited by a shady showman named Maelzel to secretly operate a mechanical chess player called the Turk. The Turk wows ticket-paying audience members and players, who do not realize that Rufus, the true chess master, is hidden inside the contraption. But Rufus’s job working the automaton must be kept secret, and he fears he may never be able to escape his unscrupulous master. And what has happened to the previous operators of the Turk, who seem to disappear as soon as Maelzel no longer needs them?
Why I recommend it: The Philadelphia connection drew me in (I was born in Philadelphia, as was my father and, in fact, both of his parents), but then I kept reading because, hey, it's Gary Blackwood (The Shakespeare Stealer) and he's a master of historical fiction filled with intrigue and atmosphere. What the synopsis doesn't tell you: first, Rufus is handicapped (but never makes a big deal out of it), and second, this novel is loosely based on true events. Johann Nepomuk Maelzel was a real person, the Turk was an actual invention in the age of steam, and Edgar Allan Poe (who plays a cameo here) really did write an essay about Maelzel's chess-playing automaton.
For links to other MMGM posts, visit Shannon's blog.