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Sep 16

Blackbirds – Chuck Wendig

About the Book

Miriam Black knows when you will die.

She’s foreseen hundreds of car crashes, heart attacks, strokes, and suicides.

But when Miriam hitches a ride with Louis Darling and shakes his hand, she sees that in thirty days Louis will be murdered while he calls her name. Louis will die because he met her, and she will be the next victim.

No matter what she does she can’t save Louis. But if she wants to stay alive, she’ll have to try.

384 pages (paperback)
Published on April 24, 2012
Published by Angry Robot
Author’s webpage

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I’ve been meaning to read Blackbirds for a while now, but I just got around to it recently. For the life of me, I can’t figure out why I put it off for so incredibly long. Blackbirds was unlike anything I’ve ever read before, and because of that, it was brutally beautiful.

I’m going to get one thing out of the way right now. Blackbirds is absolutely brutal. There’s a ton of very explicit violence and plenty of dark humor and language. If that sort of thing bothers you, then you’ll probably want to avoid this book. Wendig doesn’t hold back. Prospective readers should be aware of that. This book isn’t for everyone. That’s not a bad thing, but it should be known, because it could really disturb some people.

Now that that’s out of the way, lets move onto the actual review.

Miriam is one of the most interesting protagonists I’ve ever read about. She’s tough as nails on the outside, but inside, once you get to know her better, you realize how incredibly fragile and vulnerable she is. Wendig managed to create one hell of a tough exterior to one incredibly broken woman. A lot of readers might struggle with connecting to her, but that’s part of her magic. It’s hard to relate to someone so torn, someone who doesn’t even know who they are, and in that respect, Wendig makes Miriam incredibly realistic.

Miriam’s unique gift, the ability to see how people die, could easily be some urban fantasy trope – one of those books with the scantily clad woman on the cover holding (insert weapon of choice here).  Wendig never falls into that trope (thankfully). As I mentioned above, Miriam is a very broken person, broken by her past and by her ability. Everything about her is dark, unpredictable, and shattered. Her gift has turned her into a mystery that’s never really unraveled. Perhaps the cherry on top of Miriam is her caustic humor, her desire to overcome her ability mixed with her knowledge that it will never happen. This humor is laced throughout the book. It’s dry, subtle, stabbing, but there and despite it all, it does serve to assist the atmosphere, Miriam’s own self-perceptions, and adds a little levity on the occasion, as shown here:

She thinks, I want an orange soda. And I want vodka to mix into the orange soda. And while we’re at it, I’d also like to stop being able to see how people are going to bite it. Oh, and a pony. I definitely want a goddamn pony.

Miriam’s darkness bleeds into the plot, and her lack of compunctions regarding violence aides the atmosphere quite a bit. As I said when this review started, Blackbirds is one violent, bloody ride. That being said, I never felt like the violence was over-the-top. Wendig keeps it realistic to the situations Miriam finds herself in. Her reactions, and the violence that seems to follow her are well written, making them so realistic they’ll make you cringe, but it’s the exact sort of violence that would happen in these situations. In fact Wendig doesn’t glorify much. Blackbirds has almost no beauty in it, none of the sexuality you’d expect in urban fantasy. The filth (much of which is shockingly creative) as well as violence highlights the fact that nothing is sacred in Wendig’s world. I found this to be incredibly refreshing.

It’s obvious from the first page that Blackbirds will take off at a breakneck pace. Within the first few pages Miriam establishes her interesting ability for the reader, and her absolute loathing for said ability. The seedy hotel, the quick death, and the cockroach all add to the seedy, dark, lonely atmosphere. Wendig remains true to this throughout the book. Blackbirds is character and plot driven. One thing that readers might find lacking is a sense of place. Wendig is good about saying what state various parts of this book take place in, he describes the hotels Miriam finds herself in, an various other things, but he never really manages to make the locations pop. This might bother some readers, however, being such a character and plot driven book, I didn’t find the lack of “place” that annoying. Miriam is a drifter, and the unimportance of where she is and the scenery around her really highlights the fact that she’s been everywhere, and places stopped mattering or standing out to her.

Interspersed throughout the novel are chapters that tell the backstory of various characters. This helps give the reader some depth to each of the characters, as well as (obviously) creating a nice backstory that helps picture how each character finds themselves in the mess they are in. Wendig does this in unique ways. Miriam tells a lot of her story through an interview (while never really revealing the information readers will be dying to learn more about). Most of these backstories seem to be stories told to Miriam so she understands why (insert person here) is doing what they are doing. Now, while these stories do give a nice bit of perspective to the situations happening, what they didn’t really do is clear up the waters of motivation. For example, I never really gained a true and solid understanding of why Ashley was so focused on Miriam. Yes, the motivation he tells the reader is easy to believe and understand, but it never made complete sense to me. (I know that’s vague, but it’s an example, and I’m trying desperately not to give away too much of the plot).

Readers will find more questions asked than answered in Blackbirds. It’s obviously the first book in a series, but it never falls into the setting-up-for-books-two-and-three syndrome that tends to bother me so much with first books in a series. Wendig tells a full and complete story here, while doing a nice bit of world building and adding an almost subtle dash of “magic” to appeal to those of us who like their fantasy dark and rich. Wendig follows a nicely contained cast of characters, all of whom reach natural conclusions in an ending that will keep you wondering, “what’s next?” Blackbirds might not be for everyone, but for those who want to try something new, and aren’t afraid to get dirty while doing so, it is a must read.

 

4/5 stars

 

5 comments

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  1. Chuck

    Thanks for the very cool review! Glad you read it and dug it. 🙂

    WAIT AM I NOT SUPPOSED TO BE HERE?

    Am I hurling around my canonical weight?

    Crap crap crap crap

    *throws down a smoke bomb*

    *escapes*

    — c.

    1. BookwormBlues

      Chuck, you are a ninja.

  2. Tsauro

    This is next on my list to read. I am a one book at time kind of guy and the book I am reading is very good, but, after this review, I may have to skim a few pages to get to Blackbirds quicker.

  3. Andrea

    I love Chuck Wendig’s comment!

  4. Peter

    I struggled with Blackbirds when I read it. Maybe it was the language. Maybe something else. But that darn Miriam Black stuck with me like few characters do. I enjoyed the second book even more.

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