Book Review: BLACKBIRDS by Chuck Wendig

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Look at that cover art … just gaze upon its über awesomeness for just one second and then ask yourself: what the hell kind of fantasy novel has a cover like this? You’d be hard pressed to find one in an era when book covers featuring a strong female protagonist employ the same tired old characteristics – the chick in leather pants, her body twisted in some unnatural yet sexy pose. She might have a gun, or a sword, or a chainsaw for that matter. A lot of those covers look the same and frankly, a lot of those books read the same too – but not BLACKBIRDS by Chuck Wendig. None of them even come close.

You know, I wanted to think this was an urban fantasy, but it’s not. It’s not horror, either. It’s just plain old dark and twisted stuff with a protagonist who is D-A-M-A-G-E-D G-O-O-D-S.

Miriam Black is badder than Anita Blake before she decided to start boinking everything with two legs in the supernatural world. She’s tougher than Jim Butcher’s chainsaw-wielding Karrin Murphy as she kicks Chlorofiend ass at Walmart. She’s just plain … messed. Period. End of story.

Who is Miriam? She’s an enigma. I read the entire book in two days and all I can tell you is that if I had the ability to see someone’s death in Vista Vision every time my skin brushed up against there’s, I’d be pretty screwed up too. And that’s Miriam in a nutshell: messed in the head. Pushing back the craziness of her screwed up world with whiskey, cigarettes and sex. She’s hitchhiking as the book begins – sporting a shiner from a guy who is now laying dead in a seedy hotel room. She’s picked up by a trucker named Louis, and surprise, surprise – he’s not a creep! (Miriam thinks pretty much everyone is a creep and she’s expecting to wind up raped by the trucker.) It turns out that he might be the last decent human being on earth it would seem, but Miriam can’t exhale with this guy. She learns that he’s going to be tortured to death in thirty days – tortured for information about Miriam.

There are bad guys aplenty in this book. Each wants a piece of Miriam and Wendig does a killer  job of showing that pretty much everyone is twisted and messed up in their own way. Why they want a piece of Miriam is something I’m not going to reveal because adding spoilers to a review for a book this good would be a kick in the nuts. You just can’t know what’s going to happen because there’s so much shit flying in BLACKBIRDS that you have to keep your wits about you or you’ll miss something. Rarely does a book come along where the main character is so bleak, hopeless, hilarious, damaged, broken and so bloody well written that you can see it on a movie screen as you turn each page. (In my version, Juliette Lewis is Miriam – nobody does messed up better than Juliette Lewis… absolutely nobody.)

She isn’t a “chosen one”. She’s not on a mission from God. She’s not anything other than this brilliantly dark character with a curse – though she never once claims that her power is any kind of curse. She doesn’t embrace it or blame it for her lot in life. Actually, the reasons for her ability to see people’s deaths isn’t explained and that’s just fine with me because there’s a back story to this character that’s yet to be revealed. To know why Miriam Black is what she is would be too convenient, so don’t go looking for a reason because you won’t find one.

This is a dark and disturbing book. You want a happy ending but how can anyone have a happy ending when they carry the kind of weight that Miriam Black has been carrying? How can you even dare to think about anything resembling a normal life when you’re on the run. And that’s really what Miriam is doing from the very first sentence: running from bad guys, running from the truth of her life, running from this thing that she is.

Read this book. Trust me. BLACKBIRDS takes you for a late night cruise down a dark and twisted road without the benefit of headlights. Something bad is just around the bend. You can feel it coming and there’s not a damned thing you can do to stop it.

Blackbirds is published by Angry Robot Books and doesn’t come out until April. My copy was made available by the publisher.

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