Blackbirds is a gritty, profane novel by Chuck Wendig. Miriam Black sees how people are going to die. One touch and she’ll know when and how it happens. She makes a living by making sure she’s there to loot the corpse.
Wendig has distilled this book down into a very potent brew. If most of the books I read are various kinds of beer, this was a glass of bourbon. Wonderful and nuanced, but not something to drink down quickly.
Miriam is not a very nice person. Strike that. She’s a pretty horrible, broken person. Her magical ability has warped her terribly - knowing when someone is going to die kind of casts a shadow over a relationship.
If she was just a horrible person, she wouldn’t be so fascinating. Instead she’s conflicted. Torn. She wants to be a better person, but she’s failed and failed and given up. She’s a marvelously well rounded character with just enough likeable traits to raise some empathy.
Given how messed up Miriam is, it’s probably a good thing Blackbirds is written in third person. I wouldn’t want to be that much in her head.
You jump around to another couple people, most notably the bad guys. This let’s you see what she’s up against and ratchets up the tension.
You can really tell that Wendig is heavily influenced by script writing. A lot of times he’ll give you a few short, sharp sentences that briefly but vividly sketch out a setting before the action gets going. You can see him switching modes between staging notes and more verbose descriptions of actions and feelings. This jars in a couple spots, but not enough to throw me out of the narrative.
In general, Wendig’s prose is stripped down to the bare bones. He obviously spent a lot of time wordsmithing this book and it turned out awesome.
I was a little worried about Blackbirds, going in. I read another of his novels, Double Dead and while I enjoyed it thoroughly, I thought he fumbled the dismount. The ending just didn’t live up to the rest of the book. Blackbirds, on the other hand, fucking nailed it.
I also read Dinocalypse Now, which came out of a Kickstarter just recently. You wouldn’t know they were written by the same author. Dinocalypse Now is a fun, pulp style romp that I devoured as quickly as I could read it. The writing style and overall tone were completely different. I loved both of them in different ways. Like Blackbirds, Wendig nailed the ending - somehow managing a satisfying climax while simultaneously going out with a pulp-serial style cliffhanger.