The One-Eyed Jack and the Suicide King: personifications of the city of Las Vegas—its history, mystery, mystical power, and heart…
When the Suicide King vanishes—possibly killed—in the middle of a magic-rights turf war started by the avatars of Los Angeles, a notorious fictional assassin, and the mutilated ghost of Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel–the King’s partner, the One-Eyed Jack–must seek the aid of a bizarre band of legendary and undead allies: the ghosts of Doc Holliday and John Henry the steel-driving man; the echoes of several imaginary super spies, decades displaced in time; and a vampire named Tribute, who bears a striking resemblance to a certain long-lost icon of popular music.
All stories are true, but some stories are truer than others
Things I have a soft spot for: gods (or something similar) trying to make it in America, odes to places not much oded to, boyfriends, personifications of cities gaining sentience. Things this book has: all that! Plus Elvis!
Any book with American-grown gods is going to be compared to Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, but what’s different about One-Eyed Jack is that they’re not so much GODS as personifications of cities (or certain genres of media!) given life. Their choices affect the city; the city in return affects them. So, for example, if a formerly-important city dries up and turns into a ghost town, the personification either dies, too, or they move on to another city.
This is what happened to Jack, several decades ago, and he’s still not really over losing his old city. Meanwhile, somebody tries to kill him, kidnaps his boyfriend/personification partner, he accidentally summons the ghost of Doc Holliday and Henry, a bunch of other personifications show up with vampire!Elvis1, the ghost of Bugsy Siegel, an assassin, and the last wizard in existence.
It’s a fast-paced plot with a lot happening in it, but my favorite thing about One-Eyed Jack was, of course, the characters. They have distinct personalities and goals and hopes/dreams/etc. and together they make a great ensemble cast! The two Cold War spies personifications in particular were a lot of fun– especially when they meet up with Jack and the Suicide King. And Elvis! Elvis was SO GREAT in this. I didn’t care a whiff about fictional Elvis possibilities before O-E J, but now all I want is more books about immortal/alien/old guy Elvis having adventures.
The only downside is that there’s a decided lack of non-villainous female characters. There’s exactly one, a personification who I think is supposed to be an Emma Peel sort of character. Other female characters include: one of the main villains, Elvis’ sire, and a couple minor characters View Spoiler »who are either already dead or die during the course of the book « Hide Spoiler. This was super disappointing, since in the other Elizabeth Bear books I’ve read she’s always had a wide range of female characters running around.
That said, I did enjoy One-Eyed Jack on the whole! I just wish the character were a little more diverse (both race and gender-wise, actually).
Read: June 18, 2015
Did I mention it takes place in 2002? It takes place in 2002. That’s when EB lived there. I don’t think it’s a super important detail, except that the Vegas of 2002 is not the Vegas of 2014 (when the book was published)– something that gets talked about a bit in the story. It’s a fluctuating city and everybody’s gotta adapt to the changes.
- everybody flirts with him and it’s super adorable ↩