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Suicide Kings
Edited by George R.R. Martin & Melinda M. Snodgrass
Review by Drew Bittner
Tor Books Hardcover  ISBN/ITEM#: 9780765317834
Date: 22 December 2009 List Price $25.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /

In SUICIDE KINGS, the final part of the Committee trilogy of Wild Cards novels, it's time for a final reckoning.

The Radical, who supports the despotic People's Paradise of Africa (PPA), is slipping further into homicidal psychosis; like a rabid dog, he must be stopped. The PPA is making war on its neighbors with a new crop of aces and committing horrifying atrocities inside its own borders. The UN is powerless to intervene, so it's up to a handful of wild carders to take on the most powerful ace in the world, not to mention one of the most savage environments (physical and political) on Earth.

The action begins with a battle between the PPA and the Caliphate, run by Prince Siraj. Siraj's military is stronger, but the onslaught of the Radical and new aces like Leucrotta, the Darkness, the Mummy, the Hunger, and the elite Leopard Men turn the tide against the Caliphate. Although Tom Weathers (the Radical) happily murders the enemy soldiers, he is no less dangerous to his allies; the PPA's rulers, Dr. Nshombo and his lascivious sister Alicia, are already considering contingency plans for their current ally.

In the US, Wally Gunderson (aka Rustbelt) is worried. He hasn't heard from his African penpal Lucien in a long time and his final letter sounded wrong to the iron-skinned ace. He asks Jerusha Carter (aka Gardener), who is repairing the wetlands around New Orleans, to join him on a trip to Africa. After some misgivings, she agrees and they go to sneak into the PPA and find Lucien.

Michelle LaFleur (aka the Amazing Bubbles) is in a coma and still super-large and super-dense from absorbing a nuclear explosion the year before. However, a dream of a girl trapped in a pit of cadavers brings her around and she is soon working to escape her prison of superdense flesh. With help from her girlfriend Ink and the zombie-raising Hoodoo Mama, she is soon en route to the UN to ask the German ace Lohengrin and the translator Babel for the Committee's help. They are unable to give her any assistance, so Bubbles heads for Africa with Hoodoo Mama to find a girl who may not even exist.

Meanwhile, the shapeshifting teleporter Noel Matthews is settling down with Niobe (aka Genetrix), but finds himself dragged back into international intrigue when Prince Siraj blackmails him. Noel has too much to lose and too many dangerous enemies, so he reluctantly agrees. Trapped between a rock and a hard place, he conceives an audacious plan to make his enemies do the job for him...

And finally, as the Radical tries to push the Revolution through gruesome attacks using his murderous new aces, he finds that the Last Hippie may not be as dead-and-buried as he thought.

How these individual narratives braid together is the essence of this mosaic novel, the latest work of art by George R.R. Martin, Melinda Snodgrass, and their gifted crew. Written independently and then woven together through clever editing, the stories reinforce each other and often reflect the same events through different perspectives.

S.L. Farrell and Ian Tregillis chronicle the quest undertaken by Rusty and Gardener to find Lucien, which leads to an even more dangerous trek further into enemy territory. Starting off together, the two aces find they must go separate ways, with harrowing times ahead for both. Their story, about love and sacrifice, embodies all that is best about the Wild Cards series.

Daniel Abraham follows the journey of blogger/journalist Jonathan "Bugsy" Hive and his girlfriend, the late Simoon. Late, you say? Oh, yes--Simoon's psyche is channeled by Ellen Allsworth (aka Cameo), a medium for dead spirits as long as she has a personal object of theirs. Cameo has her own issues involving Nick Williams (aka Will-O-Wisp), a long-dead private eye and the love of her life, which only makes this four-way relationship more complicated. Bugsy's role in this is figuring out the Radical, which takes him to meet some long-gone but not forgotten figures from decades past. (Fans of the series will be delighted at these walk-ons.)

Bugsy has the classic problem faced by characters inside a narrative; the reader knows what Bugsy is trying to find out, but the process of discovery is not easy. Indeed, this segment works very well as a detective story and a bit of wild cards archaeology as well.

Melinda Snodgrass picks up the tale of her ace Noel, creating an ingenious caper that relies on some talents that are esoteric even by the standards of this series. (Imagine OCEANS 11 with superpowered criminals.) With help from aces like Tesseract, the Signal on Port 350, Broadcast and Blackhole, Noel's plan seems foolproof...until, of course, everything goes wrong on two fronts at the same time.

In a way, this trilogy has been quite a bit about Noel Matthews. This novel sees the character's story arc reach an end that might not have been imaginable back in Inside Straight, the first part of the trilogy. It is deeply rewarding and wonderful to see this cold assassin find new aspects to his character and new, more important things about which to care.

Caroline Spector sends her heroine, the Amazing Bubbles, into action after having to sit out a fair chunk of the book, as Bubbles recovers from the nuclear explosion she "ate" to save New Orleans. But once she's in action, look out, because the biggest action scene in the book is largely hers. When not fighting her way through Africa, however, her interactions with Juliet (aka Ink) and Joey (aka Hoodoo Mama) are both touching and melancholy, as she shows both how hard she can be.

Lastly, Victor Milan does real justice to the Radical, born in the first Wild Cards anthology so long ago. From the golden youth of the '60s to the violent, psychotic monster of the '00s, the Radical's fall from grace has been horrifying--but even so, there is something good within that refuses to die. Weathers' lover, Chinese intelligence agent Sun Hei-lian, realizes this but wonders if that is enough to redeem what Weathers has become. At the same time, Weathers realizes that those he took for granted may not be his friends after all. Milan's segment is bittersweet, echoing story elements from the very beginning, as he explores who the Radical is and why. This is one story that Wild Cards fans have been waiting for years to see told, and it is brilliant.

With plenty of action along the way--including a shattering ace-on-ace battle inside the Louvre--the final showdown's action is perhaps the most intense in the series to date. It rivals the epic battle of wild carders against the Astronomer in the second novel, Aces High, for savagery and superheroic spectacle both--but I would argue that this fight is much, much bigger and more consequential as well. Tom Weathers reveals what a monster he has become, even as an unlikely heroine becomes their trump card.

Martin and the Wild Card Consortium have created another book packed with high adventure, love, loss and passions from across the emotional spectrum. But more than that, as echoed in his Editors Note at the end, the story of the Congo and its child soldiers is a real one. Although dressed up in superhero trappings, the real story is one of unending war, greed, brutality and atrocities committed against the helpless--especially children. It is a shock to realize that this book is less make-believe than one might want to admit; if nothing else, readers' eyes will be opened to a horror that is all too real but that is never shown on the nightly news.

For that, we owe this team a round of deepest appreciation.

Strongly recommended.

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