Chuck Wendig has a way with words. He is one of the most talented writers I have come across in a while. Actually, let me correct that. Chuck Wendig is one of the most practiced writers I have come across in a while, because as we all know (or should know anyway) talent is overrated and only half the story (if that) when it comes to explaining why someone is so good at something. More on that in this article and in this book.
But as I was saying, Chuck Wendig has a way with words. If you have read any of his books, or his blog, you will know this already. Up till now, I had only read his blog, which happens to be the envy of every author with a blog out there, including me. Chuck has a way about him. He tells it like it is, but in a way that is acerbically witty and funny and possibly even offensive to some people. He likes to use the word “fuck” a lot, in his blog posts and in his books.
Blackbirds, the first book in the Miriam Black series, is the first novel I have read by Chuck Wendig. I already liked him as a blog writer. As a novelist, I like him even more, for Blackbirds is a great book–original and unique and told in a way that captures your attention from the start,not letting you go until the end.
When I first started reading Blackbirds, I thought to myself, Okay, Miriam (the twenty-two year old main character) is a scatty little bitch, isn’t she? Miriam has a mouth on her. Oh yes she does, and she ain’t afraid to use it. Miriam, in fact, is the perfect vehicle for Chuck Wendig to showcase his talent for snark and acerbic wit. That’s not a criticism, but a complement, for the author is good at what he does. Unlike many writers in the urban fantasy genre (although this book is more than just urban fantasy, and it there isn’t a vampire or fucking “shifter” in sight), Chuck actually writes characters that manage to pull off the snark in a natural kind of way. I find with a lot of authors who try to have their characters be snarky and witty, they don’t really pull it off. It always feels forced and more than a bit annoying. Worse, they come across as smug, the author especially. You can just imagine the writer smirking to themselves as they type out some lame comeback that took them an hour to think off. People who try to be funny just aren’t, in the same that way that cripples who try to walk just can’t. It ain’t happening and that’s all there is to it.
Thankfully, Chuck Wendig doesn’t try to be funny. Chuck Wendig is fucking funny. So are his characters, especially Miriam, who delivers the bulk of the wit in the book. Right from the off, Miriam dazzles with her overworked mouth, leaving your own mouth hanging open at the gall of the girl, having the balls to say such things, and to say them at length. In the opening scene, Miriam gets belted by another character. In the lead up to her getting hit, I was just thinking the whole time, Christ, this girl is just asking for it.
And that’s pretty much how Miriam is throughout the whole book. She says stuff no one else would dare say, stuff that no one else would even fucking think off nevermind roll it effortlessly of their tongues the way Miriam does. After a few chapters, I came to admire Miriam’s ballsy approach to life, even if she did come across as completely selfish in the process.
But then you learn about Miriam’s gift. Miriam can touch someone and immediately see in her mind exactly how that person will meet their demise. Being Miriam, what does she use her gift for? To rip people off, of course. She finds those who she knows will die in the immediate future and she makes sure she is around when it happens so she can steal the persons wallet or whatever else she needs (a calculator watch for instance, which she slips from the wrist of a guy immediately after he falls down some stairs and breaks his neck…or rather internally decapitates himself, which I didn’t know you could do). Miriam isn’t greedy or in any way extrvangant, I’ll say that about her. As long as she has enough money for drink and motel rooms and hair dye, she’s happy enough.
As the book goes on however, we get to learn more about Miriam’s past, and we soon begin to understand how she ended up so caustic. Miriam suffered trauma as a kid. The trauma, combined with her gift, kind of fucked her head up a bit, which is why she comes across as being so aggressive all the time.
Events also happen in the book. There is a great story involved, and other equally messed up characters come into play that complicate Miriam’s life even further, forcing her to confront not only her gift, but to decide what kind of person she is and what kind of person she wants to be. By the time I had finished the book, I had grown to like Miriam Black. She still came across as a pain in the ass, but you at least understand why, and even sympathize with her.
What also makes this book so engaging is the writing style itself. Like I said, Chuck Wendig is a superb writer. The whole book is written in the third person present tense, which gives everything a real sense of immediacy by itself. It is a style that is really suited, I think, to this kind of story and genre.
Chuck also has a gift for conjuring up striking imagery. Every page is full of it, most of it coming from Miriam herself. Thanks to this unique imagery, the book always feels fresh and vibrant, helping everything come to life. As a writer, I feel that I have learned a great deal from reading this book. The author delivers a masterclass in the technique of showing over telling, helped of course by the present tense viewpoint and use of imagery we just talked about.
Every character in the book is extremely well drawn. This isn’t one of those books where every character might as well be interchangeable. The characters in Blackbirds all have their own unique personalities and physical traits that sets each of them apart, helping them to stand out in your mind as you read.
I really can’t recommend this book enough. It blows most of what passes for urban fantasy out of the water. You may not like Miriam Black in the beginning, but by the end, you will at least respect and admire her, if not like her. She is certainly one of the freshest characters I have read in a long time, and I look forward to catching up with her again soon…and with Mr Wendig’s awesome writing skills.