Urban Fantasy Review: ‘Blackbirds’ by Chuck Wendig

I have decided to finally give Chuck Wendig a chance.  All I knew about him is A. He Blackbirds (Miriam Black, #1)supposedly has a morbid sense of humor and B. his books involve a use of profanity that would make a sailor blush.  As such reading his stuff is a no brainer.  It may shock you all to learn this, but I am a fine connoisseur of creative profanity.  After reading Blackbirds I gotta say, I am not disappointed.  This review could have gone two ways; talk about the book a bit or give a top ten list of the various bouts of cussing.  In the end I chickened out and decided to talk about the book.

Miriam Black is a drifter with a unique gift.  The first time she touches someone she gets a full mental rundown of their death.  Needless to say if you watch exactly how every person you meet dies, and stick around to confirm it a time or a hundred, it makes you quite the jaded soul.  But it has its advantages, especially if you are a loner with no gainful employment.  Catch someone right at their death, but before anyone else knows, and enough cash can be found to get to the next stop. 

The story really starts when Miriam meets a trucker while hitchhiking.  There is a casual touch, Mariam unconsciously works her own special magic, and she learns the man’s death is not only imminent but he seems to be looking at Miriam right before he is brutally murdered.  What follows is a fast ride in which she alternately runs from her perceived fate and participation in this horror, and at times fights against it.  Along the way she meets a smooth talking con man, some truly unique killers, and a hairless drug runner with the most interesting story about his grandma you will ever read.

A bit darker than my usual read (strange to say for a ‘Grimdark’ fan, but being set in a real work makes it more real to me).  I almost certainly would not have liked it much without the running humor.  Some of the gruesome deaths made me cringe, and the complete inhumanity of some of the characters scares me.  But there is a lot of humor, and anytime something happens that made me uncomfortable I felt even more so when I was laughing in the next paragraph.  Consider this a win by the author; humor either hits or falls flat and Wendig is genuinely funny.  As long as you have a slightly juvenile streak like I do.

I was already aware of the debate about Miriam herself that has been going on for since this book was released.  Between here potty mouth and willingness to talk about male anatomy some have called her a female character written with a very male gaze.  Others have pointed out that not all women are creative equal and felt her to be genuine.  I am going to continue to be the brave risk taker I am and fall right in the middle of the debate.  She was entertaining as hell and certainly I have met people like her (I recall a former coworker in particular who liked to shock people unprepared for her style, good times).  At the same time it was hard not to think some of aspects of her character was designed specifically to provide a bit of fan service to male readers; she was the hot slutty girl just waiting to be redeemed by someone awkward; perfectly willing to hitchhike in ‘provocative’ clothing, engage in casual sex, then go drinking all night.

Those seeking answers to every little question will be disappointed.  We never really learn what sparks Mariam’s powers, nor if she is the only one with them.  We get the backstory for some villains, but the least cliché of them remains a mystery.  But the book itself wraps up nicely with no nasty little cliffhangers that force you to immediately go to the next book of the series.  Though, if you are a fan of dark humor and horror aspects you will most likely do anyway.

I am glad I gave the author a try.  Mariam was so entertaining I look forward to visiting her again.  Now if you excuse me, I got some major catching up to in the cussing department.  So far Wendig seems to have me beat

4 stars



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