August reads

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As some of you may know I read 5 books in July. I haven’t read as much in August, but I have a couple of reads to tell you about:

The Toll-GateThe Toll-Gate
Georgette Heyer

Yes, another Heyer novel! his is one of my favourites so far and I recommend it to those of you who like novels taking place in the Regency era, adventure and just a touch of romance.

In this book we follow John Staple, a captain who just came home from the battle of Waterloo. His love for a good adventure has earned him the nickname Crazy Jack. Life in peacetime does not suit him, and he soon leaves his comfortable home to visit one of his old friends. On his journey there he happens upon a toll-house that has been abandoned by the gatekeeper. The only person manning this gate is the son of the gatekeeper, an 11 year old boy who seems frightened witless. Captain Staple decides to stay for the night to learn more about the gatekeepers disappearance and what might have scared the boy, and soon finds himself in a great adventure.

The reason that I liked this book is that main focus is on the adventure and mystery, and the romance is not too lovey dovey. I find the main male character very likeable; he is not a insensitive brute, and he loves when things get interesting. The main female character gets less room in this novel than in many of Heyer’s other stories, but she is a rather unusual and sensible lady.

schackmaskinenochthechessmachine copySchackmaskinen
Der Schachautomat
The Chess Machine
Robert Löhr

Okay, so this book I listened to in Swedish, because it’s originally written in German, and I don’t know German well to read a whole book in it. But the book is also available in English, so I put the title in those three languages here in case you’d be interested in this book and want to be able to find it.

This story is based on historical events, people and objects. It is not meant to be taken as historical fact. The early history about the chess machine is not well known, so the author has woven an interesting adventure around it with some characters who really existed, and some who he made up.

So what is this “chess machine”? For you who have not heard about it I recommend the wikipedia article about it for a quick and fun history trivia. But in all shortness: Wolfgang from Kempelen, an inventor and author, built an automatic chess playing machine in the late 18th century. This machine looked like a Turk sitting by a table of chess, and it beat almost everyone of its opponents. Von Kempelen toured Europe with this remarkable machine, and they were everywhere met with wonder, fascination, and curiousness. How had he managed to build a machine that could think?! Well, it was a grand hoax. Inside the machine sat a person who steered the machine movements, and it was this person who actually played the game of chess.

In this book, this chess player, hidden in the machine, is a little man named Tibor. Von Kempelen saves him from prison, in return for help with his hoax. Tibor accepts these conditions, and starts a life hidden away in darkness where he has to play chess under slave like conditions. He’s only comfort is his religion, and now and then the sin of the flesh (beware of 18th century dress up parties). Tibor eventually grows tired of this life of chess and lies, but Von Kempelen still has use for him, and some drama between them spurs. There are also the non-believers, who mistrust Von Kempelen and his seemingly magical machine, and they are going to great length to prove the inventor to be a swindler.

I really enjoyed this book because of the more or less glamorous setting in the 1700’s. Von Kempelen and his chess machine is a fantastic slice of history, and the characters Löhr made up for the other main roles are interesting and likeable. The adventures of the chess machine’s make a great foundation for a fun and fascinating story!

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