For a guy who scoffs at the urban fantasy genre I sure have been reading a lot of it lately. Doyce Testerman’s HIDDEN THINGS (EBR Review) for instance. Now I have to add Chuck Wendig to the list of authors that I need to keep an eye on. BLACKBIRDS (Amazon) is a dark, profane, blistering read that takes an unromantic premise and makes it even more coarse and filthy than you’d suspect possible.
Miriam Black surrounds herself with death. Should her skin make contact with your own she will get a psychic vision detailing your exact time and manner of death. For years she fought to save lives but there is no stopping fate and now she subsists as a vulture, surviving off the remnants of those who pass away. That is, until she meets a truck driver and sees his demise, a horrible murder. But before his death he calls out a name, her name. Now Miriam will try anything in her power to circumvent the natural order.
Sounds pretty morbid to begin with doesn’t it? You don’t even know the half of it. BLACKBIRDS is like that series of American horror-thriller films, Final Destination… had Final Destination been directed by Quentin Tarantino. Wendig does not flinch away from smearing BLACKBIRDS with handfuls of grime. The attitude is very grindhouse: sex, violence, and bizarre subject matter. Oddly enough BLACKBIRDS never struck me as gratuitous. Wendig paints an intimidating picture, smeared with blood and other bodily fluids, but under the veneer is a very human story.
Miriam Black is the embodiment of everything I want in a good female protagonist and a good anti-hero. I’m more critical of these two archetypes than any other. Miriam loves to hear herself talk. She loves to lie. She likes bad news. She curses like a sailor. She is a tramp and a scavenger. She is damaged, spoiled, cast-off goods. And still, past her razor-wire tongue and paint-thinner sarcasm there is a real person. Miriam is immediately likable. Her caustic demeanor is softened by her hilarious intellect. She has a tragic history that explains her gutter trash behavior and gloomy outlook on life. Here is a person, neither bad nor good, who has done bad and tried to do good. This is a character that has found that fate gets what fate wants and there is no denying the inevitable. Miriam is at once sad and broken, angry and strong beyond measure. She is a survivor.
With such a compelling protagonist it wouldn’t have been hard for the supporting cast to be outshone but they manage to hold their own. Ashley Gaynes is probably the strongest of the support. Like Miriam he falls into that grey area between good and bad. Louis is agreeable, sweet, sad, and damaged. He is the most decent of the characters though he could use a bit more detail. The villains could also use more detail but they are still well written.
BLACKBIRDS may be as gruesome as Final Destination but has much more soul. Final Destination is all about the glorification of death for the purpose of fascination and entertainment. In BLACKBIRDS death is dangerous. It is threatening and frightening and mysterious. As I mentioned earlier, despite copious amounts of violence the story never struck me as gratuitous. Everything served to further the plot or the theme of the novel.
What sets BLACKBIRDS apart from much of the urban fantasy genre is that the character is the focus of the novel. Yes, Miriam has the curse of death sight but the supernatural elements are sparse and don’t smother the very real human story. I have a copy of the sequel, MOCKINGBIRD (Amazon), which I intend to begin reading very soon. If you like your fiction reeking of stale whiskey and cigarettes, sporting black eyes, bleeding from nicks and scrapes, sticky with grease and sweat and other fluids best not to mention, with Death peering over the shoulder, then this is the book for you.
- Recommended Age: 18+
- Language: This probably features the most profanity of any book I've read all year
- Violence: Brawls, torture, and death. It is descriptive and gory. Not for the feint of heart.
- Sex: Sexual acts and sexual conversations, also not for the feint of heart