Thursday, March 1, 2012

Blackbirds by Chuck Wendig

Publisher: Angry Robot Books

Date: April 24, 2012

Blurb (Amazon): Miriam Black knows when you will die.

Still in her early twenties, she's foreseen hundreds of car crashes, heart attacks, strokes, suicides, and slow deaths by cancer. But when Miriam hitches a ride with truck driver Louis Darling and shakes his hand, she sees that in thirty days Louis will be gruesomely murdered while he calls her name.

Miriam has given up trying to save people; that only makes their deaths happen. But 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 book lived up to the hype surrounding it, which is going to grow and grow before its release. Just before I started it, I took a peek at Graeme's Fantasy Book Review and boy did he speak highly of it. So highly, in fact, that I didn't believe it. He's never steered me wrong before, but I thought he was full of crap or was sleeping with Chuck Wendig or something. Well, now I'm going to make it sound like we're having a threesome.

First of all, Graeme was right. That cover is awesome, and a paperback will never do that thing justice. Joey Hi-Fi is an amazing artist, and hopefully people are lining up to get their book covers from him. My blog looks 1000% cooler just having that picture on it (which is why I made it so damned big), and his cover of the upcoming Mockingbird looks even better.

Now, to review the actual words inside the book. I guess I'd better start by saying that I'm a pretty straight-laced guy. I'm one of those guys that grew up sheltered in a small town, and to this day foul language and gratuitous sex still put me off a bit. I remember as a teen that I couldn't keep reading George R.R. Martin's books because A Game of Thrones was just too dirty for me at that point. I'm still that same awkward teenager about certain things, and so the first ten pages of pain-peeling language in Blackbirds had me second-guess Graeme's review.

You see, in the coming months you'll be seeing a lot of what I'd like to call "sandpaper reviews" of this book. There will be a metric ton of words like gritty, abrasive, rough, harsh, and edgy. Yes, this book would make a sailor blush. Yes, horrible, terrible, awful, no good, very bad stuff happens to almost everyone. And yes, you'll be a little shocked if you're like seventeen year old me. But honestly, by the time I was twenty pages into this book I wouldn't have put it down for $50. By the time I was 80% of the way through, I wouldn't have taken $250. Understand, I'm not a rich man, and $250 would do a lot for me. But I HAD to know what would happen to Miriam; if the visions that she saw of Louis would come true, and what sort of crazy, self-destructive things would happen along the way.

Make no mistake, you'll be reading this book for Miriam. She is equal parts morbid, hilarious, sexy, depressed, perverse, uncaring, and insane. She drives you away only to lure you back throughout the novel. With the ability to know the exact second people will die, and see it in full HD, you'd kind of expect her to be this crazy. Miriam is incredibly interesting as a character, and should be able to drive several novels. It seems that with a power like hers there's a lot she could do in future novels.

Honestly, it's hard to explain much about this book without giving away too much. The novel is on the short side, which means the pace is crazy-fast, and there's nary a minute of downtime for our poor heroine. Speaking of heroin, there's plenty of drugs and sex and guns in this book. It reminds me of some sort of crazy dream Quentin Tarantino had, after which he called Chuck Wendig and told him all about it (Chuck took excellent notes). The drugs and the sex and guns all lead to some very intense situations. These are made especially tense by the fact that you don't really see five pages go by without someone getting killed (or at least Miriam seeing it), so you're always expecting the worst for everyone you see. It gives the novel a real sense of despair, like everything Miriam does is for nothing, because these people will die, and there's no way she can stop them.

This despair is counterbalanced nicely by a lot of humor. This book made me laugh out loud several times while reading it, and I think for a lot of people the humor will be the book's saving grace. I think without the quick one-liners and snarky nature of the book it would have been too depressing for me. Thankfully, Wendig's a very funny man, and so is his book.

Miriam's decisions throughout Blackbirds are also funny. Not funny HAHA, but funny "WTF did you just do that?"Miriam makes a lot of choices that you or I might call reckless or stupid or just plain bad, but that has to do with how she feels about fate. I really didn't expect to be having long conversations with my wife about the nature of fate in our lives after reading a short urban fantasy (I guess that's where this falls, right?). But I did. And that's when I realized that this wasn't just a page-turner, this was something more.

Miriam's world is violent and absolutely uncaring, as are the characters that surround her. She's hunted on every side, and doesn't dare believe that she should ever be anything more than a drunk hot mess hitchhiking her way through life. You know how some book reviews (my own included) say that the author, "pulled no punches"? Well, Chuck Wendig's Blackbirds goes out looking for more things to punch. Miriam is a tortured character if I've ever seen one, and I may never see one that's waded through more death and gore than her. When it comes to tough love, Blackbirds is brutal, gory, filthy. It is also thought-inducing, poetic, and beautiful.

I loved:

  • Miriam. She will draw you in, even if you don't want her to. You will root for her, despite all her many, many flaws.
  • The magic. Mysterious, fleeting and for the most part unexplained. This will be something that can get more detail in a second book.
  • The prose. Brutal, shocking, and ultimately incredible because of how it makes you think and feel.
I hate

  • That the language and sex and violence in this book will probably keep some people from reading it. Yes, I think that it was all necessary to give the story the feeling that it has, but it's still disappointing that it will make it (perhaps) less well-read than it should be.
Blackbirds gets 9.75/10. Perhaps the best way to describe just how fantastic this book was is to tell you about my favorite book. I'm a huge fan of Scott Lynch, particularly The Lies of Locke Lamora. It's my favorite book of all time, in fact. I would give The Lies of Locke Lamora the exact same score I just gave Chuck Wendig's book. Blackbirds might not grab you like it did me, but I can't keep my fanboy out of this review. I connected with this book, and I hope you do, too.


  1. Thank you, of course, for the kick-ass review.

    Incredibly happy folks seem to really be digging on this book!

    -- c.

  2.  Thanks for the Retweet! Really looking forward to the second book in this series.