Friday, July 31, 2009

A Gentleman's Game, by Greg Rucka

A Gentleman’s Game
Greg Rucka

Written by Greg Rucka, Queen & Country is a graphic novel series centering on Tara Chace, one of the “Minders” of England’s Special Section. Chace is an operative carrying out various missions throughout the world. From assassination to pickups of intelligence, the Minders do whatever is required of them. They are the elite operatives of England’s espionage game.

A Gentleman’s Game is a novel set in this series. Tara Chace is Minder One, the Head of Special Section. A Gentleman’s Game is the story of Operation Tanglefoot and the fallout from it. This novel is set late in the Queen & Country series, between Operation Saddlebags and Operation Red Panda. The issues of Operation Red Panda are the last issues of Queen & Country, and A Gentleman’s Game sets up the finale.

Given that this novel is set so late in the chronology of Queen & Country, it would be fair to be concerned about whether reading the first 28 issues of Queen & Country is essential to understanding or appreciating A Gentleman’s Game. This is not necessary. The opening A Gentleman’s Game gives a character profile / history of Tara Chace and is a very solid overview of pretty much everything that has happened thus far in the series. All of the high points are hit, both the positives and negatives of Chace and her various missions. Now, this is capsule overview, so the heart of watching the events unfold through the graphic series is not captured, but as a background as to who Tara Chace, what she has done, and what is the situation in Special Section – Rucka successfully introduces the character for the new reader. This is a different medium, after all.

So, A Gentleman’s Game. The novel opens with a terrorist attack in the London Underground that kills more than 300. There must be a response, a retaliation. Because the response would likely not be an official military response, the response will fall to the Minders. As Minder One, Tara Chace would get this mission. After some fact finding and investigation, blame is assigned and a target chosen. Tara is sent to Yemen to assassinate a prominent Muslim cleric who has preached jihad and hate, a cleric who is believed to be an enemy actively plotting against England. This is Operation Tanglefoot.

Not having read many espionage / spy thriller novels, I cannot speak to whether or not A Gentleman’s Game works within the conventions of the genre or if Rucka plays into (or with) what readers of that genre would expect. As a reader of the first 28 issues of Queen & Country, the one thing I do know coming into this novel is that there is no guarantee that the mission Tara is sent on will end with success. There is no guarantee that even if the mission is successful, that there will be a happy ending or that everyone will come out of it okay and that the good guys will get to bask in the sun. Reading Queen & Country I do come in with an expectation, that things will be unpleasant for Tara Chace and that Rucka will not ignore potential fallout from Operation Tanglefoot, no matter which way the mission goes. Greg Rucka is a smart writer.

A Gentleman’s Game is not strictly Tara Chace’s novel. Rucka presents the perspective of her boss, Paul Crocker, and a couple of different perspectives from the terrorists. The reader gets into the head of the men perpetrating and planning these actions, though not entirely. It is difficult to say whether Rucka gets this aspect of the novel right because it is (or should be) difficult for a Western reader to really grasp that mindset. Rucka’s track record with Queen & Country suggests that everything he writes in regards to that series is done with the highest levels of quality and accuracy, so there is a level of trust the reader should have with Greg Rucka. Even so, that mindset is a difficult one to understand. This adds to the tension of the novel because the reader knows certain events are coming before the British government does. These scenes are well done, but I have to admit that I really wanted to get back to Chace or Crocker. That’s where the heart of Queen & Country is.

This is a difficult novel to discuss because it falls into the chronology of a graphic novel series. Rucka has written A Gentleman’s Game so that it can be enjoyed and appreciated by people who have never heard of Queen & Country, but fans of the series will come in to the novel with very different expectations for character and action. As a reader of the series, A Gentleman’s Game works. It is one more mission before the finale of Operation Red Panda and directly sets up those last four issues. The novel complements the series very well, and adds a level of richness to the character and situations that builds on what the series has done. I wonder if A Gentleman’s Game is not a stronger novel for readers of Queen & Country than it is to new readers. New readers do not have an emotional investment in Tara Chace.

New readers are given a solid spy story told in a realistic manner (though not bogged down with an excess of technical detail as with Tom Clancy at his worst). I think A Gentleman’s Game will intrigue the newer readers and will probably lead them to seek out Private Wars, which is the second Tara Chace novel, set after the events of Operation Red Panda and which is the ultimate close to the series (haven’t read it yet, I’m working in chronological order). Will it lead to the Queen & Country series? I can’t say. I don’t know how A Gentleman’s Game would read to fans of the spy genre as compared to how it reads to fans of Queen & Country.

As a Queen & Country reader, A Gentleman’s Game is good. It provides necessary information, but is also an emotional gut punch to the series reader. Rucka does not relent.

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