Publication date: October 10, 2017
Suggested retail price: $15.95
ISBN (trade paperback): 978-1-942436-31-7
Based on the author’s experience working as a poker dealer, Queen of Spades is a modern re-telling of the classic Pushkin fable of the same name, a highly stylized tale set in a Seattle-area casino that combines elements of a Hong Kong gambling movie with literary language and a lively cast of unforgettable characters.
The three main narrative threads follow Barbara, a recovering gambler trapped in a cultish twelve-step program; Mannheim, a pit boss at the Royal Casino who discovers he has just six months to live; and Chan, a dealer obsessed with the playing style of a mysterious customer known as the Countess.
Queen of Spades invites readers into the murky realm of taking chances not just as a recreational activity but as a way of life. The beauty and complexity of the novel lies in its unique portmanteau structure, its page-turning plot, and its insider view into the late-night card-dealer’s world, where everyone yearns for more than what they have, and where luck plays a curious, fidgety role that may—given the right card at the right moment—change everything, for better or worse.
ADVANCE PRAISE FOR THE NOVEL:
“Queen of Spades is a paean to the deeply human thrill of gambling—part fond portrait of casino life, part poker-faced mysticism, part exploration of the risks we’re willing to take in search of meaning. Michael Shou-Yung Shum has imagined a world in which cosmic forces are at play, populated it with odd and charming seekers and turned them loose among the games of chance to seek their destinies. Like drawing just the right card to a longshot inside straight, what they find—and what we read—seems at once astonishing and dazzlingly preordained. A remarkable and original debut, rendered in impossibly lucid prose.”
– Michael Knight, author of The Typist and Divining Rod
“Michael Shou-Yung Shum’s Queen of Spades is a remarkable debut by an enormously talented young writer who has produced a literary delight that circles the dead center of a very dangerous pleasure—casino gambling. The novel is a perfectly rendered view of gambling from the inside, the dealers and their overseers in the casinos, hard at work but with vastly different objectives. Some are company men and women, others—and some here in Queen of Spades—not so much. The novel is a lovely and complex gambling fairy tale that twists and turns in intriguing ways on its way to a most satisfying conclusion.”
– Frederick Barthelme, author of Bob the Gambler and Moon Deluxe
“Queen of Spades shimmers with suspense and a magical sense of forces just beyond our ken. Debut novelist Michael Shou-Yung Shum deftly deals hand after narrative hand, initiating the reader into the mysteries of the gambler’s universe, its language, laws and gorgeous arcana. I felt I wasn’t so much reading as leaning over a high-stakes gambling table as this quartet of vulnerable characters played for their lives. How will the cards fall? How will their lives transform? And who is the elegant and mysterious Countess who watches it all from her high-backed chair? An addictive and wholly satisfying reading experience.”
– Marjorie Sandor, editor of The Uncanny Reader: Stories from the Shadows
“In a spellbinding structure that spirals around the mysterious Royal Casino, Queen of Spades weaves a cast of high-stakes dealers and gamblers closer and closer together as if within a spider’s web. Though their games are staked on chance, these characters’ lives intersect by fate, destiny and magic. Michael Shou-Yung Shum has written a luminous and mesmerizing debut, a novel I couldn’t put down.”
– Anne Valente, author of Our Hearts Will Burn Us Down
“In Queen of Spades, many unlikely and uncanny events transpire, all against a brooding and moody Pacific Northwest somehow reminiscent of both Twin Peaks and Crime and Punishment. How has an American writer created a brand-new nineteenth-century Russian classic in 2016? His name is Michael Shou-Yung Shum, and he has.”
– Margaret Lazarus Dean, author of The Time It Takes to Fall and Leaving Orbit
“Queen of Spades raises gambling to a metaphysics that reminds us being in the world is an amalgam of gratuitous rules, chance, danger, and faintly Borgesian sleights-of-hand. Many may read Shum’s smart, fast, impressive debut as a how-to fiction about betting, but at the end of the day it’s really all about the epistemologically and ontologically incomprehensible all the way down.”
– Lance Olsen, author of Dreamlives of Debris
“A magical debut—literally. This tale is both spare and sprawling, gritty and otherworldly, both an homage to the complex psychology of gambling and a cautionary tale for those watching from the rail. A ridiculously satisfying read.”
– Jamie Ford, New York Times bestselling author of Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet and Songs of Willow Frost
“Likable characters, a strong plot, and that most elusive of all qualities: a satisfying ending.”
– Michael Keefe, bookseller at Annie Bloom’s Books