The Chessmaster's Secret by Mary Parker

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The Chessmaster's Secret by Mary Parker

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Category: Confident Readers
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Summary: Entertaining time slip adventure with a chess theme. Plenty of action and a mystery to solve - what more could you want?!
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 208 Date: June 2019
Publisher: Troubador
ISBN: 978-1789018264

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Belle and Joe travel to London in 1944, towards the end of World War II. Orphaned evacuees, they haven't had a good time of it - especially Joe, who is a sensitive child and was badly bullied. Meeting them is Uncle Griff, a kindly man, but one without much money. He is more than happy to have the children stay during the school holidays. Uncle Griff owns the Shop of Mechanical Marvels and the children love all the old things it contains. Uncle Griff hopes to restore it to profitability and bring some wonder back into London's bombed out streets.

It's not long before Joe starts having dreams of magic and callings, and a stranger appears. There is, it seems, a link between Uncle Griff's shop and the Mechanical Turk, a chess-playing automaton built by inventor Baron von Kempelmen in the eighteenth century. There's a mission here - and it's to find the Mechanical Turk, or, more accurately, to find whatever's inside it. Thanks to Joe's mysterious talents and clues from the visitor, the two children travel back in time in pursuit of the Turk...

... and a rattling adventure ensues. Belle and Joe will find themselves at the court of Maria Theresa, have a narrow escape from the Russian army, meet Napoleon, and even discover Philadelphia at the turn of the twentieth century. Will the siblings solve the mystery? Is the Mechanical Chess Playing Turk really just a conjuring trick? Or is there more to it than that? But, more importantly, will they ever find a new home?

The joy of The Chessmaster's Secret is that it really does have something for everyone. There's magic. There are time slips. There is rattling, pacy adventure and derring do. There's a mystery to solve. And even a bit of steampunk. There's courage and friendship and loyalty. But, underneath it all, there are two fabulous central characters in Joe and Belle: two children who have been uprooted and had a rotten time of it and are really just looking for somewhere to belong - a place to call home. It's nicely written, too. The style is direct, pacy and immediately engaging. The vocabulary is stretching but not out of reach. Middle graders who enjoy a good adventure will love it, but every young reader will find something to relate to in this fun and exciting story.

Perhaps best of all: it's all based on real events! Baron von Kempelen really did create a Mechanical Chess-playing Turk and it really did appear at the court of Empress Maria Theresa of Austria. Napoleon really did play chess with an automaton. And the Turk did find its way to Philadelphia. The full historical record is recorded as a postscript to the book and it puts the cherry on the cake of a truly satisfying middle grade read.

If time slip stories are your thing, you might also enjoy Time Trap by Richard Smith or The Glittering Eye by LJ Adlington. We think The Eyeball Collector by F E Higgins could also appeal.

Buy The Chessmaster's Secret by Mary Parker at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Chessmaster's Secret by Mary Parker at

Buy The Chessmaster's Secret by Mary Parker at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Chessmaster's Secret by Mary Parker at

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