Suicide Kings is the latest in the Wild Cards series of novels, and the third in an apparent trilogy. It's interesting that the three novels are all what are called "Mosaic" novels, one overall story with different parts of it told by different authors, yet all three have a different format. Inside Straight had individual stories that all tied together, with each story written by the protagonist's creator. Busted Flush did the same, but the story wasn't divided into separate stories, but just chapters instead. Now, Suicide Kings gets rid of all that and has each chapter cover a day, with different sections of the chapter dealing with each hero, much like a book written by just one author. I have to admire editors George R. R. Martin and Melinda Snodgrass for keeping it all together and coherent. It's also a wonderful conclusion to the saga.
In 1946, an alien virus hit New York, killing 90 percent of the residents, turning 9 percent into monstrosities called "Jokers" and giving the other 1 percent some type of "Ace" or super power. These Aces have lived their lives, becoming celebrities and sometimes fighting crime or villains with plans for world domination. Tensions are still high in Africa between the newly formed "Caliphate" of Middle Eastern nations and the Congo People's Paradise, run by an insane dictator (Dr. Nshombo), his equally insane sister (Alicia), and an Ace named Tom who has a secret of his own. The dictator and his sister are infecting children with the Wild Card virus in an attempt to build an army of Aces and Jokers with powers that can help them consolidate their power. But the Aces from the Western world are coming; some of them coming for Tom and others to stop the monstrous experiments before any more children can be murdered for their wicked ends.
There is a lot more going, but that's the basic form of the plot. There are a lot of interpersonal relationships between the Aces that have to be dealt with, whether it's Cameo's fixation on her dead lover (by wearing a piece of a dead person's clothing, she can actually be that person) and Bugsy's use of her to channel his dead lover, or Bubbles' guilt over, during the New Orleans hurricane, having slept with a young street woman who has the power to animate the dead. Bubbles is a model, but as she takes physical abuse, she becomes fatter and fatter, though she can release that energy in the form of explosive bubbles. At the end of the last book (SPOILER WARNING FOR BUSTED FLUSH) she absorbed the force of a nuclear blast and was thought to be dead. In her dormant state, she felt the cry of a young girl from Congo who was having those experiments done to her.
All of these individual storylines lead toward the Congo People's Republic, and they are tied together very well by the various authors. I literally could not tell who was writing what parts of these chapters, with the viewpoint changing from one character to another (I'm assuming that each author wrote the sections from his/her own Ace's point of view, but I don't know). The prose is excellent throughout, with great dialogue and great description, especially of the Heart of Africa's oppressiveness. As Rusty and Jerusha make their way from Tanzania to the Congo, I could almost feel the jungle heat bearing down on me. It didn't matter who was writing the section, either.
It's the relationships that really make Suicide Kings shine, though. Whether it's the naivete of Rusty partnered with Jerusha's experience, or Bubbles and her personal issues with what happened in New Orleans, the whole Bugsy/Cameo/dead lover situation, or quite a few others, the characterization just shines from this novel. They are all interesting in one way or the other, even the ones who get a bit of short shrift in this novel, like the Committee's leader, Lohengrin.
There's nothing I can really point to and say it didn't work, though there were slow spots here and there. The book does feel a bit choppy at times as each characters section of the chapter can be quite abbreviated, but this also adds to the immediacy of the situation by not letting the reader rest. It also makes it a bit harder to put down on your nightstand before bed, as you can always say "just one more section, it's short." For those of you easily offended, there is a bit of sex in the book (not much, though) and definitely bad language and adult situations.
Suicide Kings is an excellent conclusion of this trilogy, though there is plenty of room for further books in the series. This story, however, comes to a definitive conclusion, with certain Aces coming to terms with where they are in life, other Aces dying in the heat of battle (one great thing about this series is that anybody can die at any time), and the main threat has been dealt with in some fashion. I am looking forward to seeing if anything else is done with these characters or this world, or whether the Wild Cards universe was just resurrected for this trilogy. This book is the best of the bunch.
Originally published on Curled Up With a Good Book © David Roy, 2010