Blackbirds: You’ll probably go to hell for reading it

fantasy book reviews Blackbirds by Chuck WendigBlackbirds by Chuck WendigBlackbirds by Chuck Wendig

Blackbirds is a Justin book, by which I mean that you will probably go to hell for reading it. This book is splattered with gore and peppered with sexual and toilet humor, and will probably teach you several new profanities. As for me, not being Justin, how did I like it? Well, it pushed me past my usual gore limits (there are reasons I don’t watch the Saw movies), but for the most part I liked it anyway.

The heroine is Miriam Black, whose cynical, sarcastic, dirty-mouthed voice relentlessly carries the reader through the story. She comes from a traumatic past, and something in that past triggered an unwanted psychic gift in Miriam: the first time she touches someone skin-to-skin, she sees how and when that person will die. She’s living as a drifter when a kindly trucker, Louis, picks her up and helps her. What Miriam learns when she touches Louis is shocking — his death is right around the corner, and it appears to be directly caused by his having met her.

From there, she leaves him and hooks up with a guy named Ashley Gaynes. He has a secret, and a trio of killers on his trail. The novel follows Miriam as she gets caught up in this chase while trying to figure out how Louis figures in and whether there’s anything she can do to spare him from his fate. Signs point to no; after all, Miriam learned long ago that she can’t do anything to change what she sees in her visions.

Ashley is the biggest speed bump in Blackbirds, for me. I just can’t see why any woman would be attracted to him. I get why the blackmail works, but not the lust. Maybe it’s meant to show the depth of Miriam’s self-loathing, I don’t know. He’s not an intriguingly dangerous “bad boy” character. He’s just a slimy, sleazy creep. I had trouble understanding Miriam while she was lusting after him, and so the book lost momentum for me while this was going on, and picked back up when she determined to ditch him.

Interspersed with this road-trip storyline are chapters that unfold the backstory and foreshadowing in various ways: an interview Miriam is giving at some unspecified time regarding her “gift,” dream sequences, and the stories of secondary characters. This feels like a riff on Anne Rice’s VAMPIRE CHRONICLES, and Chuck Wendig makes these techniques his own by not taking them too seriously. To me, the funniest moment in the whole book was when the narrative paused for a section titled “(Character)’s Story”… and then the story was one sentence long.

On the whole, I found Blackbirds a good read. Miriam’s narrative voice is infectious. Wendig evokes a palpable mood of gritty redneck Americana; if you’ve ever stayed in a horrible roadside motel or eaten at a greasy spoon, you know this world. The villains will make your skin crawl. The plot moves quickly and builds to a satisfying end with plenty of emotional oomph. While I found the gore a little much for me, I enjoyed the story and would be glad to read more about Miriam and her gift.


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KELLY LASITER is a mild-mannered academic administrative assistant by day, but at night she rules over a private empire of tottering bookshelves. Kelly is most fond of fantasy set in a historical setting (a la Jo Graham) or in a setting that echoes a real historical period (a la George RR Martin and Jacqueline Carey). She also enjoys urban fantasy and its close cousin, paranormal romance, though she believes these subgenres’ recent burst in popularity has resulted in an excess of dreck. She is a sucker for pretty prose (she majored in English, after all) and mythological themes.

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7 comments

  1. God I hates Ashley. I wanted much torture and degradation to be visited upon his person. Yet, I loved the book.

    Good review. I need to check out more Justin books.

  2. Hey, at least some does! *evil cackle*

    I love it when Justin reviews a book that’s really violent and/or vulgar. His review of Jesse Bullington’s Brothers Grossbart is particularly classic.

  3. New FanLit term coined: “Justin book”
    There are also “Greg books”

  4. The hate for Ashley seems to be universal. I know that it annoyed me that she kept falling for his crap.

    Glad you liked this one! It was one of my favorite reads this year.

  5. Great review. I loved this book too!

    And how about that cover? This was a rare instance of a book I specifically picked up because of the cover.

  6. Thanks. Loved your review too, especially the bit about how actual homes are a fantasy world for a lot of these characters. I didn’t really think of that while reading but you’re totally right.

    The cover is fantastic!

  7. Now now a book doesn’t have to be vulgar and violent for me to like it…it just helps.

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