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Curiosity by Gary Blackwood


by Gary Blackwood

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In Philadelphia in 1835, Rufus, a twelve-year-old chess prodigy, is recruited by a shady showman to secretly operate a mechanical chess player called the Turk. Well Rufus loves to play chess and he needs a job, so why not. Rufus has to bend his frail body inside the machine to operate the mechanical arm. This is done by the light of a candle where he is breathing air that is damaging to his lungs. The showman treats Rufus very badly and doesn't pay him until Rufus finally refuses to operate the Turk until he does. There are a lot of curious and most intriguing characters that appear in the book and all come together in the end. Excellent read! ( )
  jothebookgirl | Jan 3, 2017 |

Curiosity’s main draw is its exceptionally empathetic hero Rufus. His good-heartedness makes him extremely easy to root for, but his development as a character is what makes him truly unique. He goes from being a gentle but spoiled boy living a privileged life to a tough, intelligent one whose perseverance helps him transcend his terrible circumstances. Jacque, the French carpenter who suffers from PTSD, is also an interesting character. His defense of Rufus on a couple of occasions and his sporadic remembrances of his life make him especially three-dimensional. Other characters like the unprincipled Maelzel and the weak though kind Mulhouse are also well-realized.

The writing here, which reads like a less humorous and sophisticated version of Dickens, is well-done and compelling. Its lack of condescension and realism are also big pulls.

The book’s main theme, the concept of fighting to better your situation versus “taking things with good grace”, is rendered subtly and poignantly. The well-researched setting is another attraction, and adds interest to this simple tale.


There’s a real lack of action during the first half of the novel that’s only partially allayed during the second half, and the dark tone and complex writing are also unlikely to appeal to children. There is one significant incident in which Rufus is plainly used as a pawn of plot. The bittersweet ending, moreover, is unsatisfying, especially considering how much Rufus had suffered throughout the novel.

Verdict: Though likely to bore or depress its target demographic, Curiosity is a thoughtful, relatively interesting look at a Philadelphia boy who rises above his abysmal circumstances and the 19th century automaton that he operates. ( )
  readernoir | Aug 4, 2014 |
Curiosity is a historical piece about a boy who has everything against him.

Rufus has lost everything—his home, father, money, and now wonders what will happen to him. He has one talent—the ability to pay chess. Maelzel runs a “Curiosity” show with automatons. He also has the “Turk,” a famous automaton that plays chess. Rufus is supposed to squeeze himself into the bottom and be the chess master. Maelzel is not a nice man. Fortunately, Jacques who repairs all of the curiosities can be nice on occasion to Rufus.

I’ll be honest. I found the book quite boring. If you like chess, you may find this interesting. It could give you ideas as to different ways to learn chess and hone your skills. The novel is the typical story of a boy who becomes an orphan and must survive in the mid-1800s under abuse and unfortunate circumstances with all coming out well in the end. ( )
  acargile | May 30, 2014 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0803739249, Hardcover)

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.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:24:29 -0400)

In 1835, when his father's put in a Philadelphia debtor's prison, 12-year-old chess prodigy Rufus Goodspeed is relieved to be recruited to secretly operate a chess-playing automaton named The Turk, but soon questions the fate of his predecessors and his own safety.… (more)

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