Why is this novel so absurdly entertaining? Shum, who was a casino dealer in Lake Stevens before getting his English PhD, loosely bases his story on an old gambling tale by Pushkin, but it has a seemingly effortless liveliness all of its own (I say “seemingly” because that kind of effortlessness takes a lot of work to pull off). The book wears everything lightly: the fateful turns of cards, the odd presence of magic, the setting in Snoqualmie in the aerobicized ’80s, and a cast of characters who each spring immediately from the page into life. It reminds me of another enjoyable and strangely compelling favorite, The Queen’s Gambit (about a different royal game). What a surprising treat!
—Tom Nissley, Phinney Books, Seattle, WA