Book Review: Wildcards: Three Kings Edited by Melinda Snodgrass and George R. R. Martin.

14 Jul

When I was thirteen years old, I purchased and read (and reread) the first volume of this shared universe and alternate history fantasy series. Now, thirty-five years later, I just finished the 28th volume, Three Kings, and I am just as enraptured by the storytelling by Wildcard’s many talented writers as I was back then. In fact, this volume (the second in the proposed British Triad) may just be one of may all time favorites.

The premise of Wildcards is that in 1946 and alien virus from the planet Takis, was released over New York City. 90 percent of the victims die almost instantly upon infection in lurid and gruesome ways. The majority of survivors and twisted physically and are designated Jokers. Occasionally, these Jokers gain useful abilities and are called Knaves. The lucky one percent are gifted with amazing superpowers and are designated Aces. In the previous volume, Knaves over Queens, the history of Britain during and after the first outbreak was detailed and we are introduced (or re-introduced) to many of the characters that become power players in this volume. Personally, I enjoyed this volume better, as it had a more direct and cohesive plot, with all of the characters contributing to the events that occur.

In Wildcards reality, Elizabeth died, leaving Margaret to take the throne. In this world Margaret bears two princes, Henry (a proponent of Britain First and an outright bigot) and the younger prince Richard (a closeted homosexual and husband to Diana). When Margaret dies, Henry ascends to the throne, but immediately threatens the cohesion of the British population with his hateful rhetoric. Jokers are being systematically attacked by the deplorables in British far right society. Richard challenges his brother’s rhetoric and begins scheming for power. The third would-be-king comes into the picture when rumor gets out that Elizabeth had given birth to a Joker prince who was whisked away in secret and may still be alive. It is against this royal conflict and the threat of mass riots that our main players most contend.

The main characters are a Knave historical figure, Alan Turing (known as ‘Enigma’), now one hundred and eight years old and serving the royal family, The Seamstress, an Ace who has been providing protective clothing to the royal family for decades, Double Helix, a teleporting gender-swapper who has previously betrayed his colleagues in MI7 (or Silver Helix), and The Green Man, a reluctant anti-hero who has been leading the Joker activist group, The Twisted Fists, for decades. Finally, one of the main antagonists is a monstrous woman from Ireland named Babh.

Three Kings winds through the shadowy conflict with plenty of twists and turns that will keep you turning the pages until you arrive at the satisfying conclusion. The protagonists are deeply flawed individuals who are doing their best and sometimes worst because of life circumstances that have forced them into service for one side or another. Although all of this conflict arising from dispute over a ceremonial throne may seem ludicrous, the book effectively shows how dangerous rhetoric can be in a time when too many individuals in our own world are choosing to act out of hate and fear. I don’t want to give anything else away, so I will end with this: if you enjoy intrigue, well-developed and flawed characters, superhuman battles and well orchestrated plot twists, then you should enjoy this recent addition to this remarkable series.

5 stars out of 5.

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