Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Book Review: Blackbirds

By Chuck Wendig
Format: ebook
Genre: urban fantasy/paranormal/cursing as an art form (shut up, it is too a genre)
Series: Miriam Black #1

Recommendation: Stop reading this review. Go get the book. Just don’t even argue.

Synopsis: 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.

First Sentence:  Car lights strobe through busted motel blinds.

My Thoughts and Summary: I read this book...in 2012 some time, but decided to reread the first two books in preparation to read the third, and thought it would be a good time to review them for Mel’s blog.

I am sitting here, having read the book twice, and struggling even where to start with how much I love this character, this world, this book, and everything.

Miriam Black knows how you’re going to die and she’ll probably come by and pick your corpse after you kick it. She’s a self-identified vulture, who drifts from person to person, living on the road and in motel rooms. She swears. She smokes. She drinks. She has sex. She’s darkly damaged, carrying around the weight of her past and her “curse”. She redefines cankerous. And she is fantastic.

Though Miriam is the star, she is not alone--a cast of characters join her, both villains and heroes...er...hero. Let's face it, this is a dark world, and as such, the supporting cast are also dark. A fellow conman, some sadistic killers. The one bright spot of light is Louis Darling, the truck driver Miriam knows will die in a month's time from when she meets him--die in a grisly fashion, speaking her name. He's a good guy in a dark world--he even says things like heck, which I find terribly endearing in this instance. The supporting characters in the book are integral to the plot while feeling entirely organic to the story.

Blackbirds is tightly plotted and paced, moving at just the right speed--there is room to catch your breath, but you're pulled right back in again. I'm one of those people you can't watch a movie with because, like Miriam, I know how it's gonna end--but with this book, as well as the others in the series, I can never entirely predict how things will go. There are plot twists and points I suspect might be coming, but nothing feels safe--anyone could go, anything could happen, and that is the best kind of feeling for me when reading a book.

What makes this a real standout first book as well is that it's not really an origin story. We glimpse Miriam's origins, to be sure, through her dreams and flashbacks in interludes, piecing together her past and how her powers work at the right moments to fit with the main narrative, but at this point, Miriam knows who she is and knows what she can do. She embraces.

(Or she thinks she does. That's all I'll say about that, but Wendig masterfully lays out this world and then zooms out just enough that the reader--and Miriam--realizes there are more layers than immediately apparent.)

The humor in Blackbirds, when present, is dark and razor-sharp, and the novel is peppered with uniquely Wendig turns of phrase. Often naughty ones. The voice is part of the book's appeal, to be sure.

I feel like I'm being vague here, talking in broad strokes, but there is so much here I don't want to give away, ESPECIALLY since I've also read the next two books. So expect a little more in the next two reviews. I will say, my favourite thing in the book might be Harriet's Story. The first one. You'll know what I'm talking about if you've read it.

One thing I told myself I wouldn’t do in reviewing books is to, basically, review other people’s reviews of the books—it is not my place to criticize and it’s all just opinions. But like I did in addressing some of the religious objections to The Blood Gospel, I’m going to do it here because I think it’s relevant. One of the criticisms I’ve seen lobbed at Blackbirds a couple of places over the years is that it is “clearly” a book about a woman written by a man, that it is somehow not...feminine enough? Or something? That it just doesn’t read authentically as a woman’s POV? Or that things are just sort of gendered and this is clearly a “boy” kind of thing. (Can you tell this baffles me?)

Look, I have lady bits. They came with this body. And the double-X in my DNA. I’m a hetero, cis-gender female. I am typing this with a Disney Princess Band-Aid on my finger. I have a pink tiara Scentsy burner. I sing "I Dreamed a Dream" while I wash dishes. I AM A GIRL, not just according to my birth certificate but by the standards of this cultural construct known as gender.

And I love Miriam Black.

I can identify with many aspects of Miriam. I get her. Male writers unable to write believable female protagonists is not a new criticism—it is one I have been vocal about many times—and it's often valid, but that is not the case here. Miriam may not be everyone’s kind of female character, but she is entirely authentic (especially if you’ve ever worked a blue collar job on the nightshift with women, who are just as crude as men are). Wendig has written a better rounded, more realistic heroine than a number of female writers I can think of; the man knows what he’s doing and he gets his character. Miriam is abrasive and damaged and cut with sharp edges, but you can be damn sure I know a fuck-ton of women who are just like that. Some of them say fuck-ton. 

So. Cis-gender ladies with vajajays and pink nail polish and Legally Blonde on DVD: do not dismiss this book without having tried it. I’m not gonna lie—it’s gory and violent and the language is crass. But if you’re the kind of chick who digs Tarantino films, you will appreciate Blackbirds and Miriam Black.

Bitchstress Bechdel Bonus: Does it pass the Bechdel Test? Guys...I wasn’t paying attention. Do I have to turn in my feminist cred now?

Disclaimer: I know the author on Twitter but purchased the book for my own enjoyment and familiarity with the author did not impact my review.


  1. Oh I've been curious about this series before and now you really have me wanting to read it. Oh and I do believe that "cursing as an art form" is a genre. :)

    Hm... I've known women who cuss and are abrasive. Not a huge Tarantino fan, but I think I could handle this. :)

    1. Tarantino was the most widely-known apt comparison I could think of in terms of unflinching violence and coarse language, and I know a lot of women who enjoy those films, so I think there'd be some crossover, but the two aren't really the same. I'm going to get into it a bit more in my review of the next book, Mockingbird, but the violence is also very...thoughtful. It's not without consequence and it's appropriately horrific rather than stylish, even when necessary or done by the protagonist. The whole series so far makes for a very thought-provoking read wrapped up comfortably in genre.

      Miriam is a very rough-around-the-edges character, but I think so long as the reader keeps that in mind, and is willing to watch her character arc unfold, they'll really come to appreciate her.

  2. Okay, I gotta say. ..I love the genre you created. ^-^ (That cover is rather striking too! ) Thanks for sharing.

    1. The covers for this series are ASTOUNDING. I want them all as posters, there are so many details.

      And cursing really is an art form.

  3. I wont argue. I am getting this book. Fell in love with the cover right away.

  4. oh yes I read great things about this one each time I see it on a blog. I wasn't really sure I confess but you really make me want to try it. thank you.


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