I know I was late for this party, but I have come to be a Wild Cards fan over the last couple of years. I was looking forward to this newest mosaic novel, especially since this one featured a new line-up of authors in addition to the regular contributors.
With the way the latest triad ended, I was curious to see where George R. R. Martin and company would take this one. I was even more curious when I learned that it would focus on Manhattan's Fifth Precinct, better known as Fort Freak. This had potential, no doubt about it.
Here's the blurb:
In 1946, an alien virus that rewrites human DNA was accidentally unleashed in the skies over New York City. It killed ninety percent of those it infected. Nine percent survived, mutated into tragically deformed creatures. And one percent gained superpowers. The Wild Cards shared-universe series, created and edited by New York Times #1 bestseller George R. R. Martin (called “the American Tolkien” by Time), is the tale of the history of the world since then—and of the heroes among the one percent.
Now, in the latest Wild Cards mosaic novel, we get to know the hardbitten world of Manhattan’s Fifth Precinct—or “Fort Freak,” as cops and malefactors alike call the cop-shop where every other desk sergeant, detective, and patrol officer is more than human.
Featuring original work by writers such as Cherie Priest, author of the bestselling Boneshaker; Paul Cornell, Hugo–nominated comic book and Doctor Who writer; David Anthony Durham, winner of 2009’s John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer; and many others, Fort Freak is one of the strongest offerings yet in the ongoing Wild Cards project.
Unlike the last trilogy, which was all over the place, the action in Fort Freak pretty much occurs in Jokertown and the rest of NYC. It's a more self-contained tale as well, making it an excellent jumping point for newbies who wish to experience the Wild Cards universe for the first time.
In order for a mosaic novel to work on all levels, the team of writers needs to mesh well, and that's the case with this bunch of old and new hands. Cherie Priest is a terrific addition to the Wild Cards team. Indeed, it feels as though she's been doing this from the start. Her part of the tale, "The Rat Race," connects everything else together and is one of the most interesting storylines of the book. Melinda M. Snodgrass' "The Rook" gets the book moving forward and I'm disappointed that it's her only contribution to this novel. I also enjoyed David Anthony Durham's contribution, which is unlike what he normally writes.
Fort Freak is basically a detective story, as Detective-Investigator Leo Storgman tackles the old "Rathole" case from the late 70s one last time before retiring. As such, knowledge of previous Wild Cards volumes is not necessary to fully enjoy this one. Which is why I say that Fort Freak is the perfect opportunity for curious readers unfamiliar with the series to give it a try.
The pace is decidedly uneven, however. I think that Fort Freak features way too many plotlines. A lot more than were necessary, which at times can be off-putting. And even if each storyline adds a little more depth to the "Rathole" case, I get the feeling that we could have done without a few of them without being detrimental to the overall plot. I think that had the novel been fifty or seventy-five pages less, it would have worked much better on virtually every single level. For example, the "Sanctuary" storyline by Mary Anne Mohanraj was entertaining, but didn't bring anything valuable to the plot. Other than those MTV-esque sex scenes the new Wild Cards book seem to be fond of.
All in all, Fort Freak is a good read and a welcome addition to the Wild Cards universe. Yet letting readers witness events unfold through too many POV narratives takes something away from the overall reading experience. In the end, it remains a fun and compelling read, no question about it. But it would have worked better with a lesser number of contributions, as some of them take the reader away from the case itself and prove to be little more than distractions.
The final verdict: 7.5/10
For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe