At times it feels as though I'm one of the seemingly few readers who gave this newest Wild Cards triad a chance. As good and entertaining as both Inside Straight and Busted Flush were, it's a pity that so little noise has been made about them. Having enjoyed its two predecessors more than I ever thought I would, I was curious to discover how George R. R. Martin and co. would close the show in Suicide Kings.
The action occurs not long following the events chronicled in Busted Flush. The forces of the People's Paradise of Africa clash with the armies of the Caliphate of Arabia. But the PPA, aided by Tom Weathers, have begun a nightmarish program to help them turn the tide of the war. The Wild Cards virus is being injected into thousands of child soldiers, in an attempt to create a new army of powerful aces and jokers. In the aftermath of the nucear explosion in the heart of New Orleans, Michelle Pond remains unconscious. But a little girl named Adesina invades her dreams and beckons. Noel Matthews, spy and assassin, swore never to get involved in international intrigue now that Niobe is part of his life. Yet he realizes that the world needs him for one last mission. Without the UN's blessing, Rustbelt and Gardener embark on a journey which will take them into the heart of Africa to save a boy's life, while committees are bogged down in procedures as they assess how to deal with the PPA. And amidst all the international turmoil, Bugsy manages to make things go from bad to worse every time he opens his mouth.
As always, Suicide Kings was edited by George R. R. Martin and Melinda Snodgrass. This latest mosaic novel was produced by Daniel Abraham, S. L. Farrell, Victor Milán, Caroline Spector, Ian Tregillis, and Melinda Snodgrass.
I feel that Suicide Kings was more political than the first two volumes of the triad. The People's Paradise of Africa's storylines reminds us of the First and Second Congo Wars. Yet the United Nations' inability to deal with such tragedies in a timely fashion also brings to mind the terrible genocide in Rwanda. Which demonstrated yet again how much of a travesty the UN Security Council truly is. Bill Clinton, François Mitterand, Kofi Annan, and various other politicians deserve to be shot in the belly and left to die of a gut wound for letting such atrocities take place during their watch. But I digress. . . In any event, I felt that the politicking between the PPA, the West, and the Middle East was particularly well-done. There are never fully back or white answers to such questions, and I think that the shade of gray which always shrouds such matters was handled adroitely.
I mentioned before that one of the problems with Busted Flush was that the book was all over the place in terms of plotlines. Not so with Suicide Kings, however. There are fewer storylines and a tighter focus on how they are linked to one another.
The characterization remains my favorite facet of the Wild Cards mosaic novels. At times funny, at times touching, and at times butt-kicking, a pretty good balance was struck in this third volume. With a number of all-star characters having been killed and others turning their backs on the Committee, two unlikely heroes emerge in this one. Realizing that both Rustbelt and Gardener would take center stage in Suicide Kings made me raise an eyebrow at the beginning, but they made me a believer early on. We witness a lot of character growth where these two are concerned, which makes their storylines as heartbreaking as they are entertaining.
There are a few touching moments between Noel and Niobe, and the relationship between Tom Weathers and Sun Hei-lan takes a few unexpected turns. But it's the poignant finale that makes this one special. Bittersweet, yes (Would you expect anything less from GRRM?), yet a satisfying ending to a solid trilogy.
Although tragic in many ways, Suicide Kings leaves the door open for a lot of things to come. And judging by the quality of this newest Wild Cards triad, I think it's safe to say that the franchise is in very good hands. Which bodes well for the future of this long-running series!
To all the authors involved in this latest Wild Cards project, kudos for a job well-done! You've made me a Wild Cards fan!