Curiosity

Author: Gary Blackwood

Perhaps you’ve heard of the Turk, or perhaps not. He was once a famous automaton that could play chess–and often defeat even accomplished human players. What you might not know is that he didn’t really run on clockwork at all, but rather as something of a puppet manipulated by a hidden human player. This is the story of one of his human players, a boy by the name of Rufus . . . a boy whose sickly constitution during childhood left him with little to do but exercise his mind, read, and above all, play chess. In spite of his weakness, Rufus is stubborn and absurdly curious, and when he is left alone in the world, his curiosity and his chess skills combine to get him into no end of trouble.

I’ve greatly enjoyed Gary Blackwood’s writing ever since I discovered The Shakespeare Stealer a few years ago. His writing is quite excellent, and the skill with which he executes Curiosity is no exception. The writing style itself is obviously of remarkable quality even before you get truly into the story, and it holds consistently throughout the story. Rufus is an intriguing character–a fascinating blend of intelligence and sheltered upbringing, flavored noticeably by the stubbornness and curiosity that he himself remarks upon. I love that the story is told in first person–Rufus’ voice–as that so often brings a clearer picture of who the main character actually is; it certainly does so here. The historical setting is drawn into the story in a way that clearly evokes the times without being overpowering in detail–I especially appreciated the inclusion of important historical figures, including P. T. Barnum and Edgar Allan Poe (although I resent the representation of Poe here a bit). Ultimately, this is a book about the game of chess, and it will likely be appreciated even more by those who enjoy the game already (I myself enjoy the game, although I’m not particularly skilled at it); however, Blackwood has written the story such that even someone completely unfamiliar with chess can appreciate the book. I would recommend Curiosity to essentially anyone middle-school and up, especially to those who enjoy chess or historical fiction.

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