(Blackbirds, Chuck Wendig, Angry Robot Books)
I stumbled upon Chuck Wendig about a year ago when I literally StumbleUpon'ed his website/blog Terrible Minds. It was a very short story that was very, very good and from that moment, his blog has been a regular stop for me. I've purchased and read his numerous ways on how to be a better writer, I've participated in his flash fiction challenges, and I've found great wisdom via his Twitter account.
While he's penned other pieces, Blackbirds was his first original novel (Double Dead, the story of a vampire who awakens during a zombie apocalypse, is part of a line of books by various authors called Tomes of the Dead) and I purchased it immediately.
Before I go much further, yes, I know the book's sequel, Mockingbird, is about to drop, so it makes this review seem a tad late. To that I say, piss off. Blackbirds hasn't been out long and to get to Mockingbird, you have to go through Part 1 and I'm telling you about Part 1.
I loved it. Miriam Black, the story's anti-hero protagonist, is easy to feel sorry for, but not very easy to like, at least not in the beginning. She's a drifter, a thief, a drinker of hard liquor and smoker of cigarettes. She uses vulgarity like a master artisan weaves a tapestry. She also has the ability to discover, based on flesh-to-flesh contact with another person, how that person is going to die. She knows the gory details, down to what that person is thinking, the circumstances leading to their demise, and the exact date and time.
She drifts through life, hitching rides from seedy motel to filthy biker bar, getting money when she can, taking advantage of those about to die. Black runs with no real direction, no real plan. That all changes when she meets Louis, a truck driver with a heart of gold. He gives her a much-needed ride on a rainy night and she discovers, after touching him, he dies violently at the hands of a psychopath as he calls out Miriam's name.
After getting involved (by getting involved, I mean fucking) a con man named Ashley, Miriam runs afoul of the decidedly nasty folks who are after the aforementioned shady young man. Louis gets involved, Miriam does bad things, then some good things, more bad things, takes part in an interview regarding her past and powers, and then has a big showdown with the bad guys.
I'm not trying to simplify the book, but I don't want to ruin it. The theme has been done before, but as with any story, the greatness or not greatness (Suckness? Crapness?) lies with the author and how he is able to describe his universe to readers and Wendig is a master of it. He provides readers with a nearly overwhelming pallet of vivid scenery and character construction. Example: "She was as pale as a tanless ass." That shit REEKS of awesome. His dialogue is expertly-crafted. Many authors are able to write well and make the reader feel as though they are part of that world until the characters open their mouths. Conversation is not nearly as easy to write as people think, but Wendig nails it.
And let's get something straight: Yes, Wendig curses. A lot. On his blog. Within his Twitter feed. In his stories. In his writing tips. Again, however, it is not gratuitous. Wendig caters to a certain core group of readers. Snooty, aloof Shakespearean poets are not going to get anything out of his tips; a young writer who loves Christopher Moore, Neil Gaiman, David Sedaris, etc., will not only love the natural flow of Wendig's four-letter-word-filled advice, but will truly learn from it. He speaks the language of his fans and as a result, has built a following of devoted readers.
Blackbirds is a quick read, a fun read, and one that sticks with the you long after the last chapter has been finished. Wendig draws you in, engrosses you in his world, and, most importantly, makes you genuinely care for people who are, on the surface, pretty unlikeable.
In summary: Order the fucking book. You'll be a better person. And you'll learn a shitload of new curse words. Click HERE to start your journey with Miriam.