cover image Curiosity


Gary Blackwood. Dial, $16.99 (320p) ISBN 978-0-8037-3924-6

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%E2%80%9311. (Apr.)