Curiosity

( 1 )

Overview

Intrigue, danger, chess, and a real-life hoax combine in this historical novel from the author of The Shakespeare Stealer

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...

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Curiosity

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Overview

Intrigue, danger, chess, and a real-life hoax combine in this historical novel from the author of The Shakespeare Stealer

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? Creeping suspense, plenty of mystery, and cameos from Edgar Allan Poe and P. T. Barnum mark Gary Blackwood’s triumphant return to middle grade fiction.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
04/14/2014
In a brisk historical novel set in the early 19th century, a young hunchback named Rufus lands a job that makes use of his chess abilities after his father is thrown into debtors' prison. Rufus controls an automaton called the Turk, secretly crawling inside a cramped cabinet to play matches against challengers at exhibitions. He is practically a prisoner: Maelzel, who owns the exhibits, initially refuses to pay him, and he only lets Rufus leave the workshop at night, fearing someone will discover the Turk is a trick. References to automatons, phrenology, and an early roller coaster give depth and context to Rufus's story, and appearances by historical figures like P.T. Barnum and Edgar Allan Poe (who the author casts in a nefarious role) add fun. Blackwood (Around the World in 100 Days) cleverly blurs the line between machine and human. Trying to throw a match, Rufus gets a "disturbing feeling... that the Turk has somehow taken over"; later, the boy begins wearing a back brace that makes him "look a bit mechanical." The layered narrative should appeal to history buffs, gadget lovers, and fans of The Invention of Hugo Cabret. Ages 9–11. (Apr.)
Voya Reviews, April 2014 (Vol. 36, No. 1) - Maia Raynor
After his father goes to debtors’ prison, Rufus, a twelve-year-old chess prodigy, eagerly accepts a job offered by a dubious showman to operate the Turk, the celebrated automaton chess player. Because of the secret nature of his job, Rufus is kept under lock and key. How will Rufus escape the fate of remaining a helpless pawn and take control of his life? Readers who enjoy mystery, suspense, and chess will be curious about Curiosity. Reviewer: Maia Raynor, Teen Reviewer; Ages 11 to 15.
Voya Reviews, April 2014 (Vol. 36, No. 1) - Deena Viviani
Twelve-year-old chess prodigy Rufus is uprooted from his life in the parsonage when his father is thrown into debtors’ prison. Rufus winds up in the House of Refuge until he is taken into the employ of Maelzel, a corrupt man who runs a curiosity show. Maelzel owns the Turk, an automaton chess master who has dazzled audiences across Europe and America with his mysterious ability to beat human opponents. Soon Rufus learns the secret because his job is to hide inside the cramped cabinet beneath the Turk, move the clockwork parts, and bring the automaton to life. As Rufus fights Maelzel for his compensation, sneaks off to visit his father, and wonders about the identity of the mysterious woman in black who seems to be following him, his connection to the Turk grows. All the while, Rufus works to keep up the ruse so he has a place where he belongs. The museum and curiosity show setting—as well as the cameo appearances by Edgar Allan Poe and P. T. Barnum—make this historical novel a delight. The 1835 time period feels authentic, and the Turk himself is a genuine character. Chess is a complex game, and Blackwood does a good job keeping the details accurate yet brief. Fans of the automatons and clockwork gears in Brian Selznik’s The Invention Of Hugo Cabret (Scholastic, 2007/Voya February 2007) will enjoy this novel. Reviewer: Deena Viviani; Ages 11 to 15.
School Library Journal
03/01/2014
Gr 5–8—Following his beloved father's incarceration in debtor's prison, 12-year-old Rufus finds himself penniless on the streets of Philadelphia in 1835, with not much more than a preternatural command of chess. Rescued from a refuge house by a mysterious Frenchman, he is thrust into service as the operator of The Turk, an automaton chess player that has dazzled audiences and mystified skeptics for decades. Rufus feels useful for the first time in his life, but it's not long before he worries that he has become a mere pawn in the hand of the Turk's creator, and maybe even the machine itself. Blackwood has succeeded at infusing Curiosity with a truly gothic mood—every scene and page seems a little sooty and overwhelmingly foreboding. While Rufus's narration occasionally turns slightly mawkish, readers will no doubt find him a compelling protagonist and likable hero. Mentions of new technology and cameos from P. T. Barnum and Edgar Allan Poe ground the story in its time period. The Dickensian cast of characters and tightly constructed plot will resonate with fans of Laura Amy Schlitz's Splendors and Glooms (Candlewick, 2012).—Erinn Black Salge, Saint Peter's Prep, Jersey City, NJ
Kirkus Reviews
★ 2014-02-05
Twelve-year-old Rufus Goodspeed is dangerously good at chess. Rufus' "freakish prowess" for the game—and his unusually small size—lands him in a tight spot indeed when he's employed by an ill-tempered showman named Johann Maelzel to be the brains behind "the Turk," a wax-headed mechanical man in Turkish garb advertised as "the Original and Celebrated Automaton Chess Player." Wedged inside a hidden wooden cabinet and breathing acrid candle smoke, Rufus plays chess on stage with unseen opponents via an ingenious mechanical system—all in the hope of earning money for his imprisoned father. The Turk was a real-life 19th-century contraption, and this novel focuses on its history after Maelzel brings it from Europe to Philadelphia in 1835, spurring wild public speculation about its inner workings, the intense scrutiny of then-journalist Edgar Allan Poe and man-vs.-machine debates that continue to this day. The suspenseful narrative unfolds through the first-person voice of the fictional Rufus, a sickly, stooped yet strong-spirited boy who never loses his insatiable curiosity or his passion for chess even through bouts of abuse, near-starvation, deceit and, alas, unrequited love. A thrilling look at the 19th-century age of automata—"a time of curiosity-seekers"—and the riveting story of a likable Philadelphia boy whose life of the mind helps him transcend his extraordinary, oft-cruel circumstances. (afterword) (Historical fiction. 11-14)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780803739246
  • Publisher: Dial
  • Publication date: 4/10/2014
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 238,710
  • Age range: 9 - 11 Years
  • Product dimensions: 5.70 (w) x 8.30 (h) x 1.40 (d)

Meet the Author

Gary Blackwood is a playwright and the bestselling author of The Shakespeare Stealer series. He lives in Nova Scotia.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 1, 2014

    Good

    Such a sexy book a kiss evry pag

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