Can you imagine a hoax so successful, that Napoleon Bonaparte, Benjamin Franklin and Empress Maria Theresa were all duped by it? That very thing actually happened, and the hoax revolved around an automaton named the Turk, that was said to be able to play a near-perfect game of chess. The public were amazed by the creation, until the day that it was revealed how the Turk really operated (hint – it wasn’t actually mechanical!). Curiosity by Gary Blackwood takes place in America, years after the truth about the chess-playing automaton has been revealed in Europe, and follows young Rufus Goodspeed, a chess prodigy forced to operate the Turk for a nasty and ruthless con man. This novel was a delight to read, and is sure to appeal to readers who like historical novels and adventure stories.
Rufus had a very easy life as a young boy. Despite have a slightly hunched back and being much smaller than the other children, he was well-looked after by his father and his nanny. He had a natural gift for the game of chess, which he discovered when he was 4 years old, and his father let him devote his days to playing the game and reading about it. This wonderful and idyllic life comes to a sudden end when Rufus’ father loses his position and winds up in debtors’ prison. Now, Rufus has to look after himself while also trying to find a way to make enough money to rent his father a bed in the prison. While in these dire straits, Rufus is offered a way out; he can work for Maelzel, the owner of a curiosity shop. Once Rufus arrives at the shop, he discovers the catch; Rufus won’t be getting paid for his work, and he can’t leave!
Maelzel has taken Rufus in order to use him to operate the Turk. He is a harsh task master, and Rufus becomes increasingly nervous. He isn’t the first person to operate the automaton, but what happened to the previous chess experts? Rufus begins to suspect that Maelzel is even more sinister and villainous than he could have imagined. As he tries to find a way to escape his fate, he must also attempt to keep the Turk’s secrets. After all, he has nowhere else to go!
Gary Blackwood created a very dynamic character and narrator in Rufus Goodspeed. Rufus opens the book with a direct address to the readers, assuring them that even though the book is about chess, he won’t go into too many technical details (a promise he delivers on). He vows that the reader will be engaged, and he does just that. Curiosity was a lot of fun to read, and has some nice historical touches that make it educational as well as entertaining. If you are looking for a good middle grade novel, consider trying out Gary Blackwood’s Curiosity.