Title: The Clockwork Queen (Dyslexic friendly)
Author: Peter Bunzl
Illustrator: Lia Visirin
Publisher: Barrington Stoke
Genre: Older children’s/middle grade fiction, Historical fiction
Book format: Paperback
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Description:  Chess prodigy Sophie Peshka inherited the love of the game from her grandmaster father.  But now that he has been imprisoned in the dungeons of the Winter Palace in St Petersburg by Empress Catherine the Great, Sophie must use all her strategic skill and cunning to help him escape.
Sophie’s plan involves an incredible chess-playing automaton called the Clockwork Queen but will the Queen be able to outwit the Empress in a game where the stakes are a matter of life and death?

*Free copy provided by publisher for review…

Review:  This is such a brilliant historical story!  Sophie is the daughter of the famous chess player Ivan Peshka who has written a book on the subject.  Sophie loves to spend time with her father playing chess with him and others at a park, but one day her father must leave, having been given an important job at the Winter Palace, to teach the young Prince Paul how to play chess.  As the weeks and months go by Sophie and her mother hear from Ivan less and less until one day their letters to him return unopened with a note that says that Ivan has been locked in the palace dungeons.  Sophie needs to rescue her father but doesn’t know how, could a strange new player known as the Clockwork Queen help her?

The Clockwork Queen book page image one
©The Strawberry Post

This is such a brilliant story and I love what happens!  Sophie’s father is a famous chess master and goes to the Winter Palace to help teach Empress Catherine’s son Paul.  When Ivan says goodbye to his wife and daughter, he leave Sophie a gift of his chess board and pieces and his book, so she can practice and become good enough to beat her father.  While Ivan is away, at first Sophie and her mum get letters from him telling of what he’s doing and how difficult it is to train the young prince.  He sends money too, but after a while it becomes clear that he’s fallen out of favour of the Empress and is imprisoned in the dungeons.  Sophie is a character I liked and I enjoyed what happens to her despite some difficulties she faces when her father stops sending money.

The story is quite sad at first, with things happening to Sophie and her mum, but later Sophie’s skills at chess help her to keep making money and I love what happens when an old friend of Sophie’s,  Olga, gets in touch with her.  The story is so good and I enjoyed how Sophie eventually ends up meeting The Clockwork Queen a fascinating clockwork chess player made from wood and all sorts of cogs, looking like a queen who seems to be able to beat everyone at the game.  The story has a big reveal about the clockwork queen in the middle, which I have to admit I did see coming as I already knew about a real life similar mechanical chess player in the past and what really happened with that.  But to those that don’t know it’s a great reveal and it’s still a brilliant story which I couldn’t predict what would happen once The Clockwork Queen and Sophie along with her friends head to the Winter Palace for the queen to play against the Empress.

The story has a lovely build up to the ending with a great final few pages.  I thought it was quite a short and bit of an abrupt ending, I would have liked to see one more chapter maybe set a few weeks later but overall it’s a lovely and satisfying story for anyone reading.  The book has illustrations throughout on some of the pages, these are all in black, white and grey and I love how they look, showing the expressions of the characters well, in particular how Sophie looks with her father at the beginning and how the Clockwork Queen looks later on.  The book is dyslexia and reluctant reader friendly which means it’s printed on thicker than normal paper which has a yellower colour, the font used is a special one and the text is bigger with separated paragraphs.  The whole book is not a lot over 100 pages long too making it a great shorter read which is great for those who find it daunting to read longer books.

The Clockwork Queen book page image two
©The Strawberry Post

I have really enjoyed this book.  There are some brief author’s notes at the end explaining the real life machine in history that the story is inspired by, as well as a brief mention of how accurate some of the story is about Empress Catherine.  Overall it’s such a great novel and one I already want to re-read!  A brilliant tale about family, friendship and with a great twist on the Clockwork Queen.

What do you think of this book?  Do you like historical fiction?  Let me know what you think in the comments below 🙂