Wild Cards IV: Aces Abroad
I've been talking about this one to anybody who will listen over the past week, and I've really been looking forward to reviewing it. I liked the first three books well enough (especially the first), but this one stands head and shoulders above them all. Aces Abroad contains everything I was hoping to see more of in this series, and mixes it in with scenes of stunning beauty and bone-chilling fear.
So let's talk about some of the aspects that make this one so dang good.
The premise: In the aftermath of the 1986 Wild Card Day, the UN and WHO sponsor a round-the-world trip for several hand-picked delegates of nats, aces and even jokers. The mission: to learn about how the Wild Card virus is affecting countries the world over, and how the virus is being treated and what conditions the survivors live in.
This fact-finding team is composed of politicians like Senator Gregg Hartman, members of the press, celebrity aces such as Peregrine, Golden Boy and Hiram Worchester, and even some well-known jokers like Chrysalis and Xavier Desmond. Oh, and of course Dr. Tachyon himself is tagging along. This collection of delegates is nicknamed the Stacked Deck, a pleasing continuation of the card game nomenclature these authors so love. They (and thus, we) get to step away from Manhattan for an overdue look at the rest of the world.
And let me tell you, the combination of viewpoints here is wonderful. Each character gets sufficient time to shine, with sometimes shocking results. And during the whole 5-month trip, we watch the team travel through dozens of countries on every continent, each one facing it's own myriad issues regarding the virus, or simply the regular political upheavals that plague every decade. Chrysalis serves as a viewpoint into a terrifying mystery on poverty-stricken Haiti. Peregrine comes into her own as a protagonist in Egypt, Golden Boy and Tachyon confront their past in Paris. Both old characters and new give us insight into places such as Guatemala, Australia, Japan and the USSR. And because I am reading the 2010 reprint, there are two additional stories featuring Troll and in Peru and Lady Black in Prague, both of which I enjoyed.
And woven throughout this already epic tapestry are subplots that just don't let the reader go. One is a series of journal entries written by Xavier Desmond, the aging and ailing "Mayor of Jokertown". Desmond's chronicling of the events of the journey (written by GRRM) serve as the main recurring thread through the story, planting us deeper in the characters heads than has ever been done before in Wild Cards. Another such gripping subplot is that of Senator Gregg Hartmann, who centered in a particularly violent story from the first book, and has now returned to much acclaim. This character is almost as well-written as Xavier Desmond, which is saying quite a lot, and his entries build upon the political stories of past books while setting up for a future book I hope to get to soon. The above two threads are probably the strongest in the book.
If that all sounds chaotic and hectic, it's only because I fail to describe it well. Aces Abroad is full of action but without being overwhelming, offers non-stop thrills while somehow giving characters more room to grow than the previous books. The antagonists are terrifying but intriguing. We see how the entire world is handling not only the presence of aces and jokers but also the arrival of the delegates themselves. And just as importantly as all that, we finally get our Joker perspectives, in a deeper and stronger way than I could have predicted. Jokers feature in this book as prominently as aces and Tachyon himself.
All that praise, and yet I can't seem to find any complaints with this book. I'm not sure if there was a single page I didn't enjoy. Perhaps there are a couple stories that didn't really tie into the rest in a meaningful way... but that's simply the pattern of Wild Cards, we can expect these story arcs to intersect and clash in the next couple installments.
What a fun read. Aces Abroad is beautiful, intelligent, frightening, and highly ambitious. It is all these things and more, in a way that the first three books in the series were not. However, the sheer humanity and relevance in this book does mirror that which I found in the first Wild Cards, so I feel like things have come full circle in a satisfying way (even though I know this ride is just beginning). Of course, Wild Cards doesn't even deign to approach the scale and scope of ASOIAF, for example... but Aces Abroad gets the closest.
Well, I've caught up to the 2010 Tor reprinting run. Wild Cards V: Down and Dirty does not get it's reprint out until October, so I'll have to look to older editions. It may take a bit of time to get around to it, but I'm particularly excited for the next two books because I have a bit of an idea of what they will be about just by reading the titles...
The snowflakes are melting in your hair.
There are ghosts everywhere. We carry them with us wherever we go.