I am fascinated by clockwork, the 1800s, alternative history, and actual history. When I came across Curiosity, by Gary Blackwood, I knew I was going to enjoy the story. I mean, check out that cover.
I know, I know, you’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover…but we all do. Especially kids. I have come to almost know what to expect just by looking at the covers of different books.
This one screams intrigue, danger, deception!
That being said: It’s book review time!
It’s 1835, and twelve year old Rufus Goodspeed is in trouble. When his pastor father is stripped of his title and thrown into debtor’s prison, Rufus doesn’t know how he will survive in the world. Brought up in the parsonage by his pastor father, taken care of by his nurse, Rufus is ill-suited to work both because of inexperience and physical deformities.
But, his mind is keen and he is a chess prodigy. After his father falls into debtor’s prison, Rufus is lost lamb. He knows he needs to make money, and goes about it the only way he knows how–by playing chess.
When his talents are scouted for a local curiosity show, Rufus becomes the operator of the infamous automaton named The Turk. When Rufus joins the show, he discovers that life is hard and conditions are worse. He is surrounded by devious thieves, vicious bosses, and conniving people from all walks of life.
Rufus is told to trust no one, since everyone he meets wants to discover The Turk’s secrets. The more people he meets, the more time passes, Rufus begins to wonder just how long will be be able to keep those secrets, and if he wants to assume the risk.
What I liked:
This book was very interesting. There were just enough elements of mystery to keep me guessing. There were cameos of some of my favorite 1800s characters (like Edgar Allen Poe!). There was danger, a devastating fire, a slight romance, betrayal, potential murder, actual murder, the possibility of a sentient mechanical creation…really what else would you need?
I also really liked the cameos throughout the book, particularly of Poe. I love Poe, he was such a weird and fascinating character. His depiction in this book is probably not characteristically accurate, but it’s still fun to envision Poe as doing a ruthless conniver, capable of doing anything and everything to figure out the secrets of The Turk.
There were several characters that both helped and hindered Rufus, often simultaneously. This was great since it kept me guessing when the turn would come.
What I didn’t like:
Sometimes Rufus was too much of the ever-suffering boy. He is treated poorly by almost everyone, and he just seems to just accept that treatment, as though he deserves it–be it as a repentance for his deformity, or as atonement for his father’s sins. I do like that as he grows as a character, he does impose his own will, and doesn’t take the bullying, or at least pushes back. This growth redeems the story a bit.
Overall, this was a very enjoyable book. It was a fun look at a period in time not often explored, by either children’s literature or adult. I highly suggest it.