If you've never played chess, you might be forgiven for not being able to muster up the enthusiasm to watch a whole series centred on the game. But The Queen’s Gambit, a Netflix show based on Walter Tevis’ 1983 novel of the same name, has just become the streaming service’s most-watched-ever limited series with over 62 million households watching it in its first month.
Praised for its brilliant performances, mid-century stylings and gripping drama, the story follows a young Beth Harmon through the 1950s and 60s. After the death of her mother, Beth is taken to an orphanage where she discovers – and quickly becomes obsessed with – chess, as well as the tranquilisers given to children on a daily basis. Her rise through national, and international, tournaments is swift but behind her success there’s a growing dependence on drugs and alcohol too.
For a game that mainly takes place in the depths of a player’s brain, the show manages to depict chess with the same kind of nail-biting tension that usually accompanies a high-stakes cup final or denouement of a particularly intense thriller. But alongside the chess, the programme also reflects on themes of obsession, addiction, genius, coming of age in Cold War era USA and what it means to be a woman in a male-dominated arena. If you’ve raced through the series and are wishing for more, these are the books to pick up next.