Jacob is an educated manservant in a loyalist household. He is fearful of being identified as the murderer of a local boy, and is forced to flee on the day of his wedding feast, dragging his new wife with him. He proceeds to wreak havoc on the lives of others, but mostly on his own fortunes.
Transplant Othello to the tumult of a country in social and political flux and en route to regicide -- England in the 1640s -- and render him uncertain about his sexuality, and you have the makings of Jacob Cullen, one of the most commanding characters in contemporary writing. As the book opens, Jacob is an educated, vigorous and dauntingly strong manservant in a Royalist household, who has begun to imbibe god-fearing revolutionary pamphlets. He is on the brink of marriage to his virginal sweetheart, but is unsure of his emotional needs, and in possession of a boiling point he reaches all too often. He is also, we learn, fearful of being identified as the murderer of a local boy, and a potential nemesis arrives on the very day of his wedding feast, prompting the first of a series of impetuous, temper-fuelled bad decisions: Jacob flees, dragging his new wife and one of his brothers with him. Thereafter he proceeds to wreak havoc on the lives of others but mostly on his own fortunes - as a servant, a husband, a brother, a soldier, and, critically, as friend, co-conspirator and lover of another man disaffected by the lurch from freedom to tyranny now apparent in Cromwell's New Model Army. To step outside the law, outside the state, outside the established and natural order of things seems to supply the only prospect of happiness...All this makes for a truly heady historical narrative: gripping, unusual, packed with heady ingredients - truly, we are in a world turned upside down by political fervour, inflammatory pamphleteering, social flux, grisly combat, apocalyptically evangelical Christianity, sexual confusion, and murder most foul...The earthy, tangy quality of McCann's Republican-style prose, infused with a fresh twentieth-century sensibility, makes the whole entirely accessible and irresistible. Is this then perhaps the first great novel of the English Revolution?