and a complete change from the previous three globetrotting volumes.
Based back where the series began it has been a while since any one book has been set totally within the confines of Jokertown and it is still the most solid and best defined scenario created with great back history and cast of characters to draw on.
Fort Freak refers to the police precinct in the area, from memory mentioned in other books but never really addressed in any detail, and the introduction of the characters working there is the core of the book.
Alongside the new characters, old characters missing for quite a while make a return in either cameos or to flesh out their previous cameo appearances although they are on the whole jokers.
Jube, The Oddity, the Jokertown clinic and the Bowery Wildcard dime museum and owner Charles Dutton are among the characters and locations resurrected that frequently featured in the older books.
As with all the other books, there is a central storyline that runs throughout and builds the framework, being an unsolved murder in 1978 that a nearly retiring detective in 2010 gets drawn back into investigating and is the character on the front of the book.
Unlike the other books, from hazy memory, the linked side stories are more stand alone than weaved into the main story, with tenuous links that add strands instead of being core. It is more like a separate short story of a character mentioned in the main story and interrupted the flow of the central storyline for me.
Starting off well the second chapter is what I considered to be the weakest story in the book, called The Rook and having been the teaser release prepublication. It is written in first person instead of third, being only one of two in this volume, and I really didn't enjoy it at all, souring the book for me so early on. I would have bought it anyway, but with trepidation if I have read this chapter beforehand.
The storyline then continues on, although the related but stand alone stories did water down and divert the story for me all the way through. I also really didn't enjoy the thread involving a ménage a trois between an ace dancer, nat detective boyfriend and deuce prostitute with an ace 2 year old daughter thrown in for good measure.
As with the previous volume, a long established character meets their end and the murder story as a whole ends with a not predictable suspect, from at least my perspective of reading it.
Overall I would say it is a 3 1/2, but I could not warrant a 4 due to the disjointed writing that the normally exquisitely woven mosaic of this series is.
I would also say that a second reading may increase my enjoyment, understanding who did it to read more into the potential clues and also expecting the breaks in the storyflow.
Great to be back in Jokertown, disappointed at the absence of the usually high quality of the series.
I know I was late for this party, but I have come to be a Wild Cards fan over the last couple of years. I was looking forward to this newest mosaic novel, especially since this one featured a new line-up of authors in addition to the regular contributors.
With the way the latest triad ended, I was curious to see where George R. R. Martin and company would take this one. I was even more curious when I learned that it would focus on Manhattan's Fifth Precinct, better known as Fort Freak. This had potential, no doubt about it.
Here's the blurb:
In 1946, an alien virus that rewrites human DNA was accidentally unleashed in the skies over New York City. It killed ninety percent of those it infected. Nine percent survived, mutated into tragically deformed creatures. And one percent gained superpowers. The Wild Cards shared-universe series, created and edited by New York Times #1 bestseller George R. R. Martin (called "the American Tolkien" by Time), is the tale of the history of the world since then--and of the heroes among the one percent.
Now, in the latest Wild Cards mosaic novel, we get to know the hardbitten world of Manhattan's Fifth Precinct--or "Fort Freak," as cops and malefactors alike call the cop-shop where every other desk sergeant, detective, and patrol officer is more than human.
Featuring original work by writers such as Cherie Priest, author of the bestselling Boneshaker; Paul Cornell, Hugo-nominated comic book and Doctor Who writer; David Anthony Durham, winner of 2009's John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer; and many others, Fort Freak is one of the strongest offerings yet in the ongoing Wild Cards project.
Unlike the last trilogy, which was all over the place, the action in Fort Freak pretty much occurs in Jokertown and the rest of NYC. It's a more self-contained tale as well, making it an excellent jumping point for newbies who wish to experience the Wild Cards universe for the first time.
In order for a mosaic novel to work on all levels, the team of writers needs to mesh well, and that's the case with this bunch of old and new hands. Cherie Priest is a terrific addition to the Wild Cards team. Indeed, it feels as though she's been doing this from the start. Her part of the tale, "The Rat Race," connects everything else together and is one of the most interesting storylines of the book. Melinda M. Snodgrass' "The Rook" gets the book moving forward and I'm disappointed that it's her only contribution to this novel. I also enjoyed David Anthony Durham's contribution, which is unlike what he normally writes.
Fort Freak is basically a detective story, as Detective-Investigator Leo Storgman tackles the old "Rathole" case from the late 70s one last time before retiring. As such, knowledge of previous Wild Cards volumes is not necessary to fully enjoy this one. Which is why I say that Fort Freak is the perfect opportunity for curious readers unfamiliar with the series to give it a try.
The pace is decidedly uneven, however. I think that Fort Freak features way too many plotlines. A lot more than were necessary, which at times can be off-putting. And even if each storyline adds a little more depth to the "Rathole" case, I get the feeling that we could have done without a few of them without being detrimental to the overall plot. I think that had the novel been fifty or seventy-five pages less, it would have worked much better on virtually every single level. For example, the "Sanctuary" storyline by Mary Anne Mohanraj was entertaining, but didn't bring anything valuable to the plot. Other than those MTV-esque sex scenes the new Wild Cards book seem to be fond of.
All in all, Fort Freak is a good read and a welcome addition to the Wild Cards universe. Yet letting readers witness events unfold through too many POV narratives takes something away from the overall reading experience. In the end, it remains a fun and compelling read, no question about it. But it would have worked better with a lesser number of contributions, as some of them take the reader away from the case itself and prove to be little more than distractions.
Over the years, there has been an enormous range of imagination and craftsmanship put into the Wild Cards world, at first by writers who were already well known, and more recently by hand-picked newcomers. There have been ups and downs along the way, but generally the series remains among the very best.
Fort Freak does not scale any new heights, but manages to hold ground and crucially meld the old with the new. This acknowledgment of what has gone before, and use of the splendid resource that is the Wild Cards past, helps to firm up the idea of a cohesive alternate history. There is even a trademark sly reference to a certain recently deceased superstar, who in this world was a Joker.
What I did not like, were the multiple references to the Wild Cards equivalent of American Idol, which as far as I am concerned was the most ill-conceived and poorly executed idea within this world. Also, the rather clichéd nature of the characters and crimes that formed the police elements of the story could - and arguably should - have been given a fresher spin. And I still want to see more of the (retired) Great and Powerful Turtle.
These issues aside, Fort Freak is a fun read for new and old readers alike, and a worthy addition to the world of Wild Cards.