Wild Cards V: Down And Dirty edited by George RR Martin (book review).

Just in case you thought New York was quiet while some significant Aces were off around the world on a World Health Organisation tour in the previous ‘Wild Cards’ book, ‘Aces Abroad’ … then the fifth book, ‘Down And Dirty’ will show otherwise before dove-tailing the various people back together again.

There is a gang war going on with Kien’s Shadow Fist Society on one side and the other, the Mafia. Add Aces and Jokers and the only Nat, the archer Yeoman and the city is alight. Yeoman’s undercover in the Shadow Fists and running interference for Wraith when they discover where she lives. Jokertown is also being subjected to a new protection racket as the Mafia families are losing ground.

The mosaic this time is constructed by seven authors taking control of their own characters. You get various gaps filled like what really happened to the Turtle when he was sunk in the Hudson and the costs of being a public, albeit unseen, Ace when he can’t afford another shell to get the full benefit of his telekinetic ability. You might also prefer to have a cremation than risk having your secrets revealed by one Ace who can get them by simply chewing down on your brains.

This book is also where we get to meet Quasiman and Doctor Bradley Finn for the first time and both get more prominent over the books and the fate of Snotman. One of the joys with having so many writers is that they give a lot of attention to each of their characters so you end up with multiple favourites, whether it is the Great and Powerful Turtle to the Sleeper getting some serious time in the pages.

Something that is reminded with this book is that although this is a parallel Earth only with the Wild Card virus being the most significant change, we are presented here with ‘The Second Coming Of Buddy Holley’ by Edward Bryant. Here he didn’t die in the plane crash we’re familiar with but, having sold his songs, is now unable to perform them in the public. Following Cordelia Chaisson persuading him to appear in a charity pop concert on behalf of AIDS and Wild Cards virus is also a superb look at the then music industry that will entrap you for its entire length.

Lest we forget, secret Ace Gregg Hartmann has put himself up for the Presidential elections but not without its own repercussions as a small number of people realise what and how dangerous he really is.

Jane Dow, aka Water Lily, discovers what’s been affecting Hiram Worchester after him coming back early from the WHO tour and it’s not good. The little Joker Ti Malice has literally got his mitts in him and where sex gives addictive ecstasy. Jane becomes the next target before she gets another Wild Cards infection. Haven’t I mentioned that?

Which brings me to if you think things couldn’t get any worse, throughout the volume, we’ve also been following Croyd Crenson and his latest transformation has made him patient zero in spreading the Wild Cards virus again. Considering he’s high on drugs to keep himself awake, he’s also getting increasingly more paranoid. When I read this segment when the book first came out, I loved the discovery that of all the Aces, he’s the only one who keeps re-infecting himself and it’s still a great idea today that he could do so again. This latest outbreak also ensures we get a modern generation of Aces and Jokers.

There is so much towards the end that is potential spoiler. I do like the way so many of the loose ends were tied up but left with channels that could be opened again and indeed were. If you’re new to ‘Wild Cards’, you are going to find yourself getting increasingly addicted to this book series.

There is a lot going on and you will always want to know what happens next. All the authors involved were, some have since died, and are good writers so you have a really nice product that deserves to be read and have on your bookshelves. I haven’t given more than a fraction of what has been going on this time and lessons to be learnt for modern writers. In case, you were wondering, the lady on the cover is Bagabond, the eyes and ears of Jokertown. You’ll never look at animals who watch you closely the same way again.

GF Willmetts

March 2018

(pub: TOR/Forge, 2015. 510 page enlarged paperback. Price: $17.99 (US), $24.99 (CAN). ISBN: 978-0-7653-3561-6)

check out websites: www.tor-forge.com, www.georgerrmartin.com and www.wildcardsworld.com

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