Vienna, 1770: Baron Wolfgang von Kempelen unveils a strange and amazing invention: the Mechanical Turk, a sensational and unbeatable chess-playing automaton. But what the Habsburg court hails as the greatest innovation of the century is really nothing more than a brilliant illusion. The chess machine is secretly operated from inside by the Italian dwarf Tibor, a God-fearing social outcast whose chess-playing abilities and diminutive size make him the perfect accomplice in this grand hoax.
Von Kempelen and his helpers tour his remarkable invention all around Europe to amaze and entertain the public, but despite many valiant attempts and close calls, no one is able to beat the extraordinary chess machine. The crowds all across Europe adore the Turk, and the success of Baron von Kempelen seems assured. But when a beautiful and seductive countess dies under mysterious circumstances in the presence of the automaton, the Mechanical Turk falls under a cloud of suspicion, and the machine and his inventor become the targets of espionage, persecution, and aristocratic intrigue.
What is the dark secret behind this automaton, and what strange powers does it hold? The Chess Machine is a daring and remarkable tale, full of envy, lust, scandal, and deception.
Any additional comments?
I love books that deftly blend historical accounts (however loose) with easily digested scientific ideas/inventions and fold them into clever stories with believable, achingly human characters. This book succeeds in several of those areas, but falls short in its presentation of characters. Too often, they are flat and predictable. Their comments seem like points taken from a storyboard to propel the plot, not natural expressions of real people swirling about in the events of their lives. To its credit, the narrative is quite fine and the reading is well-matched to the writing style. The author understands how to craft a book with foreshadowing and story tentacles that wrap back upon themselves to create that mobius strip flow that marks the complexity of quirky, rich lives. So, I can recommend this as a good read, but not a great one. If the category appeals to you, I can highly recommend A Case of Curiosities (print only, bestseller and available in trade paperback) or The Invention of Everything Else (print and Audible.com - I found the reading a delight!).
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