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Ace, King, Knave Paperback – 3 Jul 2014

35 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 512 pages
  • Publisher: Faber & Faber; Main edition (3 July 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0571297625
  • ISBN-13: 978-0571297627
  • Product Dimensions: 12.6 x 3.2 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (35 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 195,796 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


Maria McCann's exuberant revivification of grave robbers and gamblers, hucksters and whores in 18th-century London: like Hogarth sprung to life. (Hilary Mantel, Observer Books of the Year)

Ace, King, Knave deserves to catapult its author into the historical fiction stratosphere inhabited by Hilary Mantel. (The Times)

'One of the best, and most readable novels published this year ... a thrilling, unputdownable desperado's journey through high and low life.' (Tina Jackson, Metro)

McCann's inventive, spirited romp through Regency London deserves a wide and passionate readership ... Much of the language is recreated from the slang dictionaries of the time, and McCann pulls off an ambitious, linguistic feat without even a suggestion of irritating pastiche. This is technically accomplished stuff, but more importantly, it is utterly engrossing. (Antonia Senior, The Times Books of the Year)

McCann's eye for detail is impeccable and she approaches the past with all the confidence of a seasoned traveller who feels entirely at home among its mores ... McCann has created a full-blooded world, one in which the reader gladly loses themself, vibrant with the stink and violence of 18th-century London as well as its painted surfaces. This is an immensely satisfying novel, and ought to secure her reputation as a significant voice in historical fiction. (Stephanie Merritt, Observer)

Fizzing with rich depictions of 18th century London, Ace, King, Knave exposes the underbelly of genteel society to be a world of violence and lies. Fans of Sarah Waters and Peter Ackroyd will devour this dark and twisted tale of vengeance. (Stylist)

Brought to life in Hogarthian detail ... McCann unfolds a vivid, ingenious narrative. (Sunday Times)

Highly coloured but lightly executed, and reads as though it were an enormous pleasure to write. McCann has chosen a fitting subject for a Georgian backdrop: the age was rich in fakes and imposters, deception and display. (Guardian)

A rollicking historical tale of cards, deception, grave-robbing and double-dealing. (Marie Claire)

Maria McCann is an elegant writer who evokes a world of contrasts and whose two main characters you find yourself rooting for. I loved her 2010 novel The Wilding; this one doesn't disappoint. (Daily Mail)

A vibrant portrayal of an 18th-century London every bit as sordid and debauched as that of a Hogarth engraving ... McCann weaves together elegant London and lower-class Romeville, "with its fierce, dirty, exuberant people", to create an entertaining tale of grave robbers and gamblers, hucksters and whores. (Irish Times)

'An absolutely tremendous read.' (Lucy Inglis, author of Georgian London)

An absorbing novel about different kinds of freedom or entrapment; of the heart, of the body, of convention and class, loyalty and lies ... Exploring the seamier side of 18th-century London - poverty, violence, deceit - its dialogue catches something of the foreignness of the past, and is threaded through with a warmth and lightness of touch that makes McCann's world a pleasure to inhabit. Highly diverting. (Jane Borodale, author of The Book of Fires and The Knot)

Absolutely brilliant - I loved it. The characters leap off the page right from the outset. The story is utterly compelling. The historical texture, rich and convincing. The writing is breathtakingly good. (R N Morris) --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Book Description

Ace, King, Knave by Maria McCann is a powerful, gripping novel about the dark underside of eighteenth-century England, from the bestselling historical novelist and author of The Wilding.

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Customer Reviews

3.7 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Roman Clodia TOP 100 REVIEWER on 31 Oct. 2013
Format: Kindle Edition
One of the things that I like about McCann is that her books are never just repeats of each other. Set in the eighteenth century, this one is situated in a different world from either her superlative As Meat Loves Salt or the slightly less engaging The Wilding.

We're now in an urban setting (London, Bath) where concerns about money, gender, status and power are made central, and where characters are able to shift their social identities, so that people are not always who they present themselves to be.

Into this mix is thrown innocent Sophia, desperately in love with Mr Zedland who she is to marry; and the less-innocent Betsy-Ann. As both women uncover lies and deceptions, they find that they can, with help, take some control of their own lives.

This reminds me a little of Sarah Water's Fingersmith with its sense of people being able to fashion their own identities, and the emphasis on female empowerment in different social settings, though McCann's voice is her own.

So this is an energetic historical novel which uses the concerns of the present - race, gender, the authority of money, the slipperiness of identity - to inform a view of the past. This doesn't, for me, have the emotional rawness and power of As Meat Loves Salt but it is a clever, gripping, intelligent read - recommended.

(This review is from an ARC courtesy of the publisher)
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By jaffareadstoo TOP 500 REVIEWER on 30 Nov. 2013
Format: Hardcover
Eighteenth century London is vividly recreated in this charismatic story about the fortunes, and multiple misfortunes, of a trio of disparate people. There is the newly-wed Sophie who is married to the charismatic Mr Zedland, who keeps her own secrets well hidden. A former bawdy prostitute, Betsy- Anne Blore who runs her second hand goods shop with an enviable entrepreneurial skill, and also Fortune, who is the Zedland's mismanaged slave.

On the surface, the lives of these three people should never intertwine, but Maria McCann has, with great panache, weaved together a story which will gradually reveal the heaving hotchpotch of the great, and it must be said, the mightily unwashed of 1760s London. From the gin-soaked alleys, which are reminiscent of a Hogarth engraving, through to the genteel drawing rooms of the English upper class, no stone is left unturned, and as these proverbial stones are uncovered, a shocking story of vile corruption, and filth at the highest level, is revealed.

Ultimately, this is a good romp through Hanoverian England. As always the author manipulates the narrative with considerable ease, blending authenticity with dramatic storytelling. Littered throughout is a colourful vocabulary which infuses such a tangible realism, that I felt like I had spent time wandering London, with a set of wastrels, vagabonds, prostitutes and grave-robbers.

If you like colourful and realistic historical fiction then I am sure that this will appeal enough to warrant giving it a try.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Carol on 20 Feb. 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I loved this book for about three quarters of its length. The characters are strongly drawn, the period is evoked through great use of language and the plot builds nicely. As other reviewers have said, it reminded me of Fingersmith and also The Crimson Petal and the White at various points. However...the ending is really lame and I felt shortchanged after investing a lot in the book thus far. For this reason I wouldn't rate it overall as a great historical novel. I can't believe that a good editor didn't tell McCann that she needed a stronger resolution as part of her contract with the reader. Not sure I'd bother reading any of her other novels for that reason.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Purpleheart TOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 29 Sept. 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
‘Provided they are accompanied at all times by Rixam, and on no account venture further than the shallows, Papa has given permission for Mr Zedland to take Sophia boating on the Statue Lake.’

Maria McCann’s third novel opens with the conventions of a Regency novel. It could almost be the start of a novel by Georgette Heyer, whose novels I love, and find I am in good company as Margaret Drabble does too. In this opening chapter there is the mannered conversation of the couple on the lake, the French phrases that pepper the speech of the upper classes and the references to the accomplishments of a gentleman and of the copying of Roman statues. The description is more literary than Heyer’s, ‘Heat-haze rising off the water melts her grey satin robe into the surrounding air, and Sophia herself is incense dissolving before the sacred image that is Mr Zedland,’ but the scene is set up for romance and some mystery.

I try to minimise spoilers in plot based novels but some may regard the following spoilerish..

There are three narrative threads following three protagonists in the novel whose stories interweave; Sophia who is Mr Zedland’s fiancé at the start of the novel, Betsy-Ann who is a ‘fly’ coster-monger and Titus, a former slave and Mr Zedland’s gift to Sophia. It is in their opening chapters and in the subsequent unfolding of Sophia’s that Maria McCann’s novel lifts the cover on the world of the Regency novel that tends to provide the contrast to the romps of the upper classes that Heyer’s novels revolve around. What creates a frisson of excitement there - the danger that a lady’s reputation and more could be ruined - is the very core of this novel.
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