Cover image for Curiosity
Blackwood, Gary L., author.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York, New York : Dial Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Penguin Group (USA) LLC, [2014]
Physical Description:
313 pages : illustrations ; 22 cm
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.
Reading Level:
870 Lexile.
Program Information:
Accelerated Reader AR MG 6.3 11.0 165195.

Reading Counts RC 3-5 5.6 17 Quiz: 63310.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
J FICTION Juvenile Fiction Open Shelf
J FICTION Juvenile Fiction Childrens Area
J FICTION Juvenile Fiction Open Shelf

On Order



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.

Author Notes

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

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Inquisitive, motherless Rufus, a frail and hunchbacked boy in nineteenth-century Philadelphia, has shown a preternatural ability to play chess from a remarkably early age. And when his parson father is sent to debtor's prison, Rufus' chess skills are all he can rely on. In a stroke of luck, he meets the volatile man who owns the Turk, a real-life chess-playing automaton that gained world renown in nineteenth-century Europe and North America. Rufus is hired to operate the machine while crouched inside and keep the Turk's secret under tight lock and key, though soon he is unwittingly caught up in a plot to debunk the clockwork chess master. While the first-person narrative, which is chock-a-block with chess terminology, occasionally becomes annoyingly self-referential a cast of fictional and historical figures includes grand showman P. T. Barnum; Edgar Allan Poe and his teenage wife, Virginia; and the real-life owner of the Turk, Maelzel this Dickensian coming-of-age story from the author of Around the World in 100 Days (2010) offers a glimpse into a quaint corner of American history.--Hunter, Sarah Copyright 2014 Booklist

Publisher's Weekly Review

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.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

School Library Journal Review

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 (c) Copyright 2014. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.