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WesternSFA


Knaves Over Queens
Edited by George R.R. Martin
Harper Collins - UK, L16.99, 550 pp
Published: June 2018 (US edition coming in August)

This is the 26th installment in the decades-long-running series called Wild Cards; or the 29th book depending on whether you count the three ebooks and graphic novel. This book was published originally in the UK, and will be published in the US later this year.  The stories and many of the authors are UK-based.

For those of you who have not yet encountered Martin’s Wild Cards universe, here’s a brief background:  in the 1940s, some aliens decided to use Earth as a proving ground for a virus designed to create super-powered humans.  The virus was released over New York City and can have one of four effects:  mostly normal-appearing but super-powered known as Aces; mostly normal-appearing with a less-than-impressive superpower known as Deuces, a completely non-human, deformed appearance known as Jokers or death by drawing a Black Queen.  The stories have followed different groups of characters since the 1940s.  The series is unique in that each story is a composite done by several authors; it is not an anthology, it is a complete novel.

This book is not a single story compiled by the host of authors but rather an evolution of Wild Cards through the decades in the United Kingdom. The first story from Kevin Andrew Murphy begins, appropriately enough, in 1946 when an English passenger ship was forced to berth in New York harbor just as the virus arrived.  The story introduces a joker named Flint as a man of living stone.  Peadar O Guilin showed us a young Irish girl severely and probably fatally affected by the virus until she finally figured out who she should be:  the Irish goddess Badb.  The next story progresses up to 1952 as we see Flint rescued from the misguided family attentions in the first story.  The city of London is plagued by robberies committed by a joker or Ace-styled Spring-heeled Jack.  Flint is recruited by Churchill to find the reprobate.  This story also introduced a secret organization, the Order of the Silver Helix, comprised of powerful Wild Cards to be deployed at the behest of the Queen or MI-6 with Flint at its head.  The story picks up in 1967 to illustrate how Flint recruits for his organization.

By 1973, it’s obvious that old Churchill has seen his better days.  But it takes a perfectly ordinary, albeit smart and clever, man to bring down the suspected Ace for the sake of the Empire.  By 1981 the English police force is finally employing jokers and one such woman works undercover recruiting knaves, their term for an Ace but one damaged by the virus.  She finds one and uses him to break up a nasty gang.  This was a really good story from Charles Stross, maybe my favorite.

1982 brought on the Falklands debacle and you can bet the English would have brought their most powerful Aces in on that.  A really excellent story from Marko Kloos.   Peter Newman delivered the saddest story of a joker who turned into wood.  The former PM Churchill recruits him to go undercover in a gang – and not even his wife and children know; they believe him to be a criminal.  It’s a case of a good man identifying too much with his fake persona; but when he’s never allowed to come back – just one more thing after another – and then the revelation that his wife was never going to wait for him and his children hate him, well…one might as well do a good job with the skills one is good at.

Babd finally resurfaces in 1987 in a bloody story of a goddess who loves and rewards the warrior; even if she has to go out and get them herself.  But she almost gets caught by Captain Flint, leaving this story with more possibilities. 

Melinda Snodgrass introduces a character named Noel Mathews aka Double Helix who made his first appearance in a much earlier Wild Cards story “Inside Straight”, I believe.  In this story, Noel is just beginning to understand his powers but being a typical snot-nosed young man, he uses them for his own benefit until Flint gets ahold of him.  It’s actually kind of funny.

Emma Newman also provides a sad story about a young girl able to turn living creatures into stone statues – valuable stone statues that her family sells as art.  But when the girl finally realizes her only worth to them is to murder people and sell them, she does what she has to do.  And Captain Flint may find himself with another recruit.   Mark Lawrence brings us up to 2017 with a tragic tale of a woman trapped in her own mind and a useless body until she discovers an ace talent that provides her with an escape.  And Peader O Guilin winds up the book with Babd, again looking for a warrior to save Ireland.  A great deal of violence ensues.

This book stands alone in this pantheon in that it does not provide a single story or even a series of linked stories.  What it provides is a beginning point for UK-centered stories by introducing key characters in a long timeline:  Captain Flint, Babd and Noel Mathews.  Having a little continuity with these will give the Wild Cards Trust a future opportunity to create a more complex novel; which I sincerely hope they do.    ~~ Catherine Book

Contributing authors are:
Paul Cornell
Marko Kloos
Mark Lawrence
Kevin Andrew Murphy
Emma Newman
Peter Newman
Peadar O Guilin
Melinda Snodgrass
Caroline Spector
Charles Stross

For more titles by George R R Martin click here

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