Chuck Wendig took Neverwhere, Simon R Green’s Nightside, some neo-Cthulhu tropes, The Godfather, and The Hulk, threw them in a blender, seasoned with profanity and charcuterie and created The Blue Blazes. The title refers to what you experience when you’re high on ‘blue’ and not only feeling like you’re on top of the world but quite literally seeing through to the true reality.
The setting is a spin on New York City and nearby parts of New Jersey. A few decades ago, construction workers digging under New York broke into a system of caverns inhabited by all sorts of weird creatures that have been quietly invading ever since. They use magic to hide themselves from normal people and the only way you can see them is to use blue, a magical pigmented mined from those underground caverns by mole men.
His choice of protagonist is where Wendig really shines. Mookie Pearl is an aging thug who’s lived long enough to have plenty of regrets. Hollywood would probably cast Tom Cruise in the role, but what they really need is a retired football player with a New Jersey accent. I love Mookie Pearl. I wouldn’t want to hang out with him, but he’s great fun to read about. He’s broken in the most interesting ways.
Skelly McClure is the leader of a roller derby themed girl gang who suddenly finds herself in the middle of a struggle for control of New York’s criminal underground. Definitely not a damsel in distress. She doesn’t get as much screen time or characterization as Mookie, but she can definitely carry a scene. I wish we’d gotten to see more of her.
Wendig does really awful things to his characters, so it’s probably a good thing that he sticks to a multiple third person POV. This DOES mean that it doesn’t quite fit in with the standard urban fantasy set up of a first person tour guide who practices wise-cracks in the mirror every morning. Mookie knows his way around and is incredibly capable, but he’s not big on word play.
Every time you think you know where you’re going, Wendig throws in a plot twist. I can’t get more specific without getting into spoiler territory, but suffice it to say that he does a great job of making sure his protagonist has plenty of twists and turns to navigate.
He switches viewpoints regularly, which helps mix up the pacing - you can go from an underground brawl to political intrigue and back so you don’t get worn out by the fighting or bored by the talking.
The story barrels along at a very fast pace right up until the end, where you get just enough resolution to feel satisfying, but not enough to wrap up every single loose end. It also avoids a lot of trite happily ever afters. Wendig leaves a lot unsaid and I’d love to come back and revisit these characters again.
I read The Blue Blazes and Mur Lafferty’s Shambling Guide to New York City back to back in about 4 days after they came out. There was no watching TV. I snagged the audiobook because I just didn’t want to put it down while I made chorizo and eggs.