Last month, I was promoted! I am now a Sr. Drug Safety Associate, with more responsibility, more money, and the accompanying stress. And speaking of stress...our company was bought out. We are in the middle of a merger/acquisition, and next month, we find out who will still have a job. I've been getting mixed messages, so I have no idea how safe my position is, but I am guessing that I will have a job at least through the end of the year and probably through the first or second quarter of next year for the transition, after which I'll be let go with the maximum severance package...not to mention the money from the buyout. I'm kind of looking forward to being laid off so I can take a few months off and focus on writing. But I don't know. Life is weird.
Blackbirds, by Chuck Wendig, has a goddamn fantastic cover and an irresistible premise: Miriam Black knows how and when you die simply by touching you. Somewhat predictably—because where else do you go with this trope, after all—she sees a death she doesn't want to see and tries to prevent it. But that's about the only thing that's predictable about this book. (Okay, there is one other thing.)
Miriam Black is a wonderful character, a drifter and a grifter who's constantly bombarded with the deaths of the others, deaths she is powerless to do anything about but can at the very least exploit for her own personal gain. She's fucked-up and damaged, some events in her past always haunting her. She's foul-mouthed and pissed-off, in contrast to the usual snarky, badass urban fantasy heroine. Miriam Black is not someone I would want to hang out with in real life, but I loved hanging out with her on the page.
At first, there doesn't appear to be much of a plot, as Miriam simply hops around encountering people, but then one does develop, and if it sort of seems to be mashed into this story, that's because it was: Chuck Wendig took a couple unrelated characters he'd written about and gave them a home in Miriam's world. It works for the most part, however, and Wendig also provides some framing interlude chapters that provide exposition and backstory to keep the book moving along. The chapters are very short (and they have wonderful titles like "The Sun Can Go Fuck Itself," "Everybody's Fucked," and "This Is Where Randy Hawkins Dies" [not a spoiler, I promise]), which makes the book very fast-paced and hard to put down since you can always read just one more chapter. As things started coming together, I began having audible reactions, which is an indication of how invested I am in the story and characters.
I was not prepared for the tone and atmosphere of the book, though: it's quite crass, dirty, and grimy, though not without a sense of humor, as the chapter titles indicate. It rarely feels like Wendig is trying too hard, either; the voice of the book is so strong that it draws you into its mood effortlessly. I must admit to feeling uncomfortable with what appeared to be a misogynistic tone in that voice, which I do believe comes from the characters and the world rather than the author. I have no reason to think Wendig is misogynist (and, in fact, have every reason to think the opposite), but I did raise my eyebrow quite a bit.
Enjoying and appreciating Blackbirds does require giving in to the dark, fuck-sunshine tone of the book, but it does tell a gritty, satisfying tale of death, regret, and fate starring a fascinating protagonist I'm happy to follow for many more books.
In Mockingbird, Miriam Black returns, still clearly affected by the events of Blackbirds. I appreciated the realistic way Chuck Wendig handles it: she may have survived, but it wasn't happily ever after. Mockingbird finds her using her talents at a school for "bad girls," where she, of course, sees a death she must stop. I have no issue with this formula, as it is a natural fit for this series, and it doesn't feel repetitive because Wendig puts some new twists on it. The story gets pretty fucking depraved; it's clear these books are going to be pretty dark, grim, fucked-up affairs. Which, again, is a natural fit for this particular character. We get some more character development for Miriam that indicates that the series will definitely see her grow and change with each book. In addition, the mythology continues to deepen. At times, these books can be too much for me, but they're very addictive, and they're fast reads, and I find Miriam Black fascinating.
Within the first few pages, I knew I would love the fuck out of The Blue Blazes, by Chuck Wendig, for two reasons. One, it deals with the underworld and gives it a mythic quality, using journal entries from a lost explorer to provide the exposition and worldbuilding. Two, the vibrancy of the fucking language, holy shit. Chuck Wendig is a master of metaphor, and his imagery leaps off the page. The staccato descriptions, sentences frequently dispensing with needless subjects and getting right to the verbs, pull you into the action and give the book a pulpy noir feel, appropriate for a book about the criminal underworld.
The Blue Blazes is built on that pun, really, melding together the supernatural underworld and the criminal underworld. The man who straddles that line is Mookie Pearl, a big, burly hulk of a man. He's the tank in your raid team; he's not on the Brute Squad, he is the Brute Squad; and so on. This tough enforcer dabbles in the delicate culinary art of charcuterie, finding peace in tiny meat. And peace is what he needs when his daughter, Nora, declares that she is going to take down his boss and rule the city of New York. The complicated, conflicted relationship between Mookie and his daughter is easily one of the best parts of the book.
Wendig constructs a world with fearsome monsters and dark magic, only able to be seen with a drug harvested from the underworld. Guess what color it is. I loved the cosmology of the book, the nature of the underworld and its denizens, the effects of the Blue. We learn about the world bit by bit, sometimes from a journal entry and sometimes from a character. To my utter delight, we get multiple POVs throughout the book, as Wendig gives us a glimpse into the heads of the good guys, the bad guys, and everyone in between. It made me positively giddy each time we got a new perspective, especially because some scenes were not told from the perspectives I expected, and I could tell whose head we were in simply from the language. The language in this book, good God. I may love Miriam Black more as a character, but I really love the way this book is written. It's got a sick pizzazz.
The Blue Blazes is filed under urban fantasy, but it's really supernatural crime noir. With a strong relationship at the center, exciting action scenes, and interesting and conflicted characters, it's a promising start to a new series that tells a satisfying story on its own. "Please let Mookie Pearl punch his way into your heart," wrote Chuck when he signed my book. He has. Oh, he has.