The Clockwork Queen

Authored by Peter Bunzl
Illustrated by Lia Visirin
Published by Barrington Stoke

Talented chess player, Sophie has to use all her skills to rescue her father from the court Catherine the Great in St. Petersburg.

This is a story about Sophie Peshka who is a young chess prodigy. When tragedy strikes, she is forced to use all her strategic skills to rescue her father. We discover that he has been cruelly imprisoned in the dungeons of the Winter Palace by the Empress Catherine the Great. Sophie is helped in her quest by her friend Olga and an amazing clockwork chess playing queen.

Sophie’s story is exciting and moves with pace. The language used by Peter Bunzl is accessible but challenging. He describes life in 18th century Moscow evoking the sense of a cold, busy city. Here chess playing is a social, enjoyable activity but those without money strive to eke out an existence. When the action moves to St. Petersburg there is a brooding atmosphere of wealth and danger within the palace. The descriptions of chess playing are fun and informative without being complicated. The action moves quickly, keeping the reader interested. We want the characters to succeed, empathising with their problems as well finding them likeable and fun. The story relies on the fact that Sophie is left alone to fend for herself after the death of her mother. Her sadness and struggles are apparent but it would have been interesting if her bereavement had been more deeply explored.

It is always a pleasure to hold a Barrington Stoke novel. The cream paper has a lovely quality, the text is clearly printed and spaced with Lia Visirin’s illustrations adding historic interest to the unfolding story. This is a story that will appeal to readers in KS2. It is a book that would add to a school library and could be used as a guided reading text. Questions can be raised about relationships, grief, searching for solutions and abuse of power. Also, an interest in playing chess can be developed as a result of looking closely at the games played within the story.

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