Young Sophie Peshka is a gifted chess player, an art she has learned from her grandmaster father. She is undefeated on the streets of Moscow and is able to hustle her way to a few roubles. Everything goes wrong when her father is summoned to the Winter Palace in St Petersburg to teach the son of the powerful Empress Catherine the Great how to play the game.
Imprisoned for failing to impress and cut off from his family, he has no means of escape. His only hope is Sophie who must use all of her skills and strategic thinking to devise a cunning escape. Her plan involves a chess playing marvel - The Clockwork Queen - and she must play the game of her life if she is to find her way to the palace and free her father…
The often quiet and reserved game of chess becomes drama and tension-filled in this gripping historical narrative as an enjoyable pastime, power and a chess-playing automaton collide in this captivating read where the stakes are high and the game really is a matter of life or death. Taking inspiration from the ‘Mechanical Turk’ - an elaborate chess playing automaton whose secret baffled people for years - Peter Bunzl whisks readers back to 18th century Russia and tells an enthralling story that will keep the excitement and engagement levels high. As an added treat, extra information behind Bunzl’s inspiration for the story is included at the end.
A mechanical chess playing Queen, a father in trouble, a courageous daughter, chess masters, a power hungry Queen and a dangerous rescue plan make for an absolute cracker filled with peril, courage, clever thinking, great risks and an incredible piece of machinery. Intrigue and mystery hang firmly in the air and pacy and exciting story-telling ensure a genuine page-turner that has you wondering who will be saying ‘Checkmate’.
The Clockwork Queen is a superb piece of historical fiction writing and I whisper this quietly, I think this is one of my favourite reads from Barrington Stoke. True to their ethos, this is top quality story-telling from one of the UK’s best children’s authors made accessible to a wide audience of readers; a reading level of eight plus and dyslexic friendly font and colours ensure lots of children can access this read - and I strongly suggest they pick up a copy.
Sophie is a fabulous character. Despite the challenges that life has presented her with - an imprisoned father, the death of her mother and finding herself on the brink of becoming homeless - she still finds hope and strength when it is needed most. She is courageous when all seems lost and with the help of some old friends and The Clockwork Queen her bravery and determination has her triumphing in the end.
With huge thanks to the publisher for the copy I received in exchange for an honest review.
Recommended for 8+.