Dead Man's Hand

This is a strange book. Rather than the previous format of two short story collections and a mosaic novel, this subseries has two collections and now two mosiac novels (Ace in the Hole being the other). What’s strange is that it continues the same plotlines of the first two books and mostly takes place at the same time as Ace in the Hole. Rather than focusing primarily on Puppetman and the political plotline in Atlanta, Dead Man's Hand is set mostly in New York and deals with the death of Chrysalis, the investigation of Ti Malice.

As a stand alone or complete alternative to Ace in the Hole, I think it would have been a lot stronger. Once the stories merge and start replaying events we’ve already seen in Atlanta (albeit with a different point of view), it feels a lot more repetitive.

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Ace in the Hole

Ace in the Hole completes the second internal trilogy of the Wild Cards, finishing up many of the plotlines of Aces Abroad and Down and Dirty and bringing the Puppetman plotline to the end. The main plot centers around a presidential convention, which is already a bizarre enough system on its own. Bring super powers and assassins–and super powered assassins into the mix–and things go very very sideways.

This book really does show what makes the Wild Cards books shine, with just enough real world (and real world characters) to make it feel like a solid ‘what if’ while at the same time, bringing in the Wild Card and how it changed the world at every level. It’s good to meet a wide variety of previous characters on both sides and, as the stories go on, to see some of those same characters fall.

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Down and Dirty

Down and Dirty is a bit of an odd duck, with some stories taking place at the same time as the world tour of Aces Abroad while others take place after. There are mafia plotlines, political plotlines with the Puppetman, and a bit of an internal struggle for both Tachyon and the Turtle. As with any of the short story collections, there’s a wide variety of stories, for better and for worse.

Individual stories:

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Aces Abroad

After Jokers Wild , I’m glad to see Aces Abroad move on from Fortunato/the Masons (although Fortunato isn’t gone for good just yet). After listening to the afterward by George RR Martin, that seems to have been intentional: the first three books were ordered together and made a self contained arc. A similar pattern will continue through the rest of the books.

It’s also interesting this time that where we were mostly limited to New York and Jokertown before, now we’re getting a look at the rest of the world–in the guise of a world tour taken on by a number of famous Aces, Jokers, and Nats (listening to the audiobooks, I was wondering why in the world they’d be called gnats… swattable? nats makes much more sense). The Wild Card virus may be rare the further you get from New York, but it seems to have impacted every corner of the world in various ways.

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Jokers Wild

Rather than the collection of short stories found in Wild Cards and Aces High, Jokers Wild is instead a mosaic novel, with the storylines all mixed into a single novel length story, with less clear distinction between the characters and their storylines.

I’m … not thrilled with it.

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Aces High

Where Wild Cards introduced the setting and spanned decades dealing with the introduction of the wild card virus and how the world diverged from our own, Aces High feels a lot more focused, dealing primarily with two plot lines: the arrival of an alien ‘swarm mother’ (a hive mind/bio ship intent on eating planets, as one does) and the Masonic conspiracy we first got a glimpse of in Fortunato’s introduction.

The story starts out a bit rough. I don’t really care for the Mason/Fortunato’s plotline. But the swarm stuff is pretty cool and there are a number of fun new characters along with expanded worldbuilding. I like the additional focus. It makes me wonder/expect if each book will have a single topic or two to focus around.

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Wild Cards

Finally got around to it. I haven’t been able to find the whole series on audiobook, but at least I have the first few, so let’s give it a go!

Overall, it’s a surprisingly fun and rather different sort of book. Rather than a single overarching plot and series of books, you have a world with a few key events and then a number of short stories with only a few characters crossing over. An anthology as it were. :)

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