|Image courtesy of Faber and Faber|
I am not often drawn to historical novels but for some reason the plot of Ace, King, Knave appealed to me. Set in 18th century London, it follows the lives of Sophia, a demure newlywed married to the charismatic Mr Zedland and Betsy-Ann, a former prostitute, now a second hand dealer who lives with a grave robber.
The story is told through the words of Sophia, Betsy-Ann and Fortune the slave who belongs to the Zedlands, and switches between their past and present lives. Whilst it was important to learn what had occurred earlier in their lives I did feel having three narrative voices and this switching between times did occasionally make the book a little confusing, especially as I was also having to try to figure out the numerous historical slang words. I actually discovered a glossary once I'd finished the book but wish I'd found it earlier as it would have meant I could have concentrated on the story more without having the flow interrupted as I stopped to work out what a word or phrase meant. I didn't really start to properly enjoy the book until about halfway through when I became used to the wandering narrative and liberal use of archaic words. That said I did sometimes enjoy the extra reading inspired by this book; discovering more about the fascinating George Psalmanazar a particular highlight.
This is not a prim look at a genteel past, indeed you can almost smell the filth and grime. We are taken into the underbelly of London, a dark and dangerous gin-sodden world of gamblers, thieves, prostitutes and grave robbers. It's not a period of history I know well but it felt wretchedly real.
If you enjoy historical novels that don't shy away from the sordid and bawdy and like a tale that meanders through the lives of its characters and explores the themes of convention, hypocrisy, freedom and choice (or the lack of) then I'd recommend Ace, King, Knave. For me it's not quite the novel to fully convert me to this type of book but nevertheless I'm glad I was tempted this once.
Disclosure: I received my free copy of Ace, King, Knave from the publishers through Netgalley in return for my honest review.
Ace, King, Knave will be published in the UK on 7 November 2013 by Faber and Faber.