Blackbirds by Chuck Wendig
Publisher: Angry Robot/April 24th, 2012
Kind thanks to the Angry Robot Army for providing a review copy
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 off, it’s awful hard to pick up a copy of Blackbirds without noticing the stunning artwork on the front, yes? I had no trouble using it to picture Miriam, and it also has so many little details in it that pertain to the story. That said, on to the story… Blackbirds begins with Miriam in a squalid little motel room with a man that’s about to die. He’s not the nicest guy (he’s really, really not), but Miriam feels she must bear witness to his death, since it was her that foresaw it. She’ll have access to the cash in his wallet, which will certainly help her get to her next stop. Seeing how people will die hasn’t made Miriam Black’s life a cakewalk, and she’s done her best to distance herself from everyone and basically lives a nomadic life, witnessing death and stealing, and recording it all in her diary. Things change when she meets the kind Louis, a truck driver who picks her and who’s death she sees. Par for the course, right? Not so much this time, since Louis will be murdered, and before he dies, he calls her name…
Mainly told while looking over Miriam’s shoulder, Blackbirds takes off like a roller coaster to hell, and really never stops. Miriam has a smart mouth and a streak of self-loathing a mile wide, but she’s also brave and rather tough. She has an ability that no one in their right mind would want, and years of witnessing all manner of death have taken their toll. We follow Miriam as she meets up with a con man that both attracts and repels her, and he has a certain suitcase that some very nasty people want back; people that will do anything, and stop at nothing, to get it.
Blackbirds is not for the faint of heart. The pace is relentless and the violence is brutal, but through it all, you won’t want to tear your eyes away. I think part of it is that Miriam is such a fascinating girl. She bears witness to awful things, yet she keeps going, driven by a force that not even she understands, at least not at first. This is also the first time she’s really cared about someone (in Louis), and it shakes her to her very core. I mean, this girl has been distancing herself from humanity for years. She’s had to, with the horrid things she sees on a regular basis. The poor girl really doesn’t get a break, and when the bad guys have her in their clutches, you’ll root for her to kick some serious ass. Speaking of bad guys… The author gives us some of the most evil, nasty bad guys I’ve come across in a long time. Forget sympathetic villains. You really won’t find those here, and the worst one is a woman. Yeah, she’s pretty awful, and you’ll be sneering at her right along with Miriam.
Chuck Wendig has managed to take the best of urban fantasy and crime noir, twist ‘em together like barbed wire, and drag you right over the barbs. Blackbirds is gritty and violent, yet never loses sight of the light that might be at the end of the tunnel. It’s there, I promise. You may have to squint a little, but Miriam’s humanity always shines through, even when things look pretty grim. Chuck Wendig hasn’t disappointed me yet, and I suspect he’s got quite a lot more in his arsenal. Don’t miss this one!