Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Review: Blackbirds by Chuck Wendig

Blackbirds by Chuck Wendig
Published: Angry Robot Books (2012)
Series: Book 1 of Miriam Black
The Book:
Miriam Black knows how you’re going to die. She’s foreseen hundreds of car crashes, heart attacks, strokes, and suicides. She merely needs to touch you — skin to skin contact — and she knows how and when you’ll die.  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.”

This is the first novel I’ve read by Chuck Wendig, and it kicks off a series of three books about Miriam Black.

My Thoughts:

I think that a lot of whether one likes Blackbirds or not may come down to one’s reaction to the heroine, Miriam.  She’s definitely not an admirable character—a foulmouthed drifter that robs people who come to untimely deaths.  However, she is very aware that she isn’t a good person, and that knowledge is slowly destroying her.  She seems to be sort of a victim of learned helplessness, in that she hates herself and her situation and is convinced that she is completely incapable of effecting any kind of change to either.  This made her a frustrating character to follow sometimes, but I also really wanted to see her find some way to begin to rebuild herself and her life.

The conversational style of the prose in Blackbirds is clearly flavored by Miriam’s voice, though she is not the narrator.  The style is pretty simple and blunt, with quite a lot of profanity, which suits Miriam’s abrasive personality and sarcasm.  Miriam’s depressed, jaded view of life is reflected in the grungy descriptions of cheap diners, truck stops, and motels where she spends much of her time. There’s a lot of focus on trashiness, complete with descriptions of cockroaches and “piss-yellow” lights.  Due to Miriam’s ability, the story is also peppered with pretty gruesome descriptions of people dying.  The violence and dirtiness was unrelenting throughout the story, and it could be wearing at times.

Miriam’s story in Blackbirds is a relatively straightforward thriller, with the paranormal flair of her curse. Miriam’s involvement with Louis’s impending death is connected to her unwilling entanglement with a pathetic conman that is being chased by some over-the-top evil gangster types.  The tension and the action scenes seem like they would work well in film, which might be due to the fact that this version of the novel is preceded by a screenplay version. However, none of these side characters seem particularly nuanced: Louis is nice, the conman is sleazy, and the gangsters are basically evil.  This fits the cinematic nature of the story, but is less satisfying, to me, in a novel.  I enjoyed how the story ended, though, and how the events of the story enabled Miriam to regain some sense of power over her own circumstances.  While there is clearly more to Miriam’s story that can be explored in future novels, I felt that Blackbirds concluded satisfactorily as an individual novel.

My Rating: 3/5

Blackbirds is a very grungy story featuring a deeply flawed protagonist—vulgar, unkind Miriam Black is not an easy heroine to like.  I appreciated that her negative traits are acknowledged in the story, though, and that she is not happy with the person that she has become.  A major question throughout the story concerns whether she is capable of improving herself and her situation, or if ‘fate’ will have the last word. The story is mostly a relatively straightforward thriller, one with a pretty large amount of profanity, general dirtiness, and violence.  Blackbirds sets the stage for more stories of Miriam Black, but it also works fine as a standalone novel.  

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