on 6 August 2012
Blackbirds has a fair amount of hype circulating around it. There is a lot of expectation here. The cover alone promises the reader multiple things and for the most part Blackbirds delivers. I was intrigued by this book long before I requested it for review but I was scared that it would just not do it for me but in the end I really, really liked it.
The best thing about this book for me is that it dares to be different. This book takes the Urban Fantasy genre and turns it on its head. If you took every urban fantasy book you have ever read mix it with some Sin City and add a splash of Tarantino, Blackbirds is what you would create. It is smart and engaging yet manages to be philosophical at the same time. Behind all the violence and swearing Blackbirds actually asks some pretty big questions about death and fate, about good and evil.
The characters in this are full of life (which is funny considering this book is essentially about death) and at the centre of it all you have Miriam. Miriam is a fighter, a survivor. I think as a reader you don't exactly like Miriam. She is the type of person you wouldn't associate with, a person you would look down your nose at. She is white trash, an alcoholic and a criminal. She is unlikable. But it doesn't matter because in some way you admire her. She is strong and sassy. She can hold her own and there is something to appreciate in that. Yet, behind all the sarcasm, and nonchalant attitude you can see a glimpse of who she really is underneath all the layers of hurt and grief and you know that inside she is not a bad person.
Then there is Louis. He looks like a criminal he is a scarred hulk of a man. But really he is soft, caring and kind and he just might be the one to show Miriam that life doesn't have to be as dark and dreary as she makes it. He is instantly likable, he is someone you can root for and to be honest I wish there was a little more of him in this book.
The other characters are great but are mostly dislikeable (apart from Frankie who, despite everything, turns out to be impossible to dislike) they are villains of the most disturbing kind.
I have heard a lot of fuss about how this book would have been better if it had been written by a woman. I could not disagree more strongly. Some have said `don't read this book unless you are a guy' well, I am a girl and I really liked it. I have heard that this book is just to `man.' Well, so what? There is nothing wrong with a male voice in fiction, and just because the story is about a girl it doesn't mean that it has to be less gory or about love. I don't think this is book every woman should run out and buy, it is just that there are a lot of generalizations being made about women (as a whole) not liking this book and it is simply not true.
But I should warn you that this book is not for the faint hearted. It is grim and grimy (something I imagine you will hear a lot in reference to this book). It is violent and gory. There is sex (not the swoon worthy, erotic kind) and swearing. There is also a decent amount of characters (mostly male) that you want to drop kick. Be warned if that is not something you can handle then this book, unfortunately, is not for you.
But if you can handle that and you feel like you like could use a little darkness in your life then I strongly recommend this book.
on 26 July 2012
I came across this book on Netgalley the other day. The cover instantly caught my eye, so I did a bit more research and the book itself sounded fantastic and very original. I requested it and that night I received it. I started reading it and within a few sentences I was hooked. The first chapter is brilliant it really claws at the reader until they are waiting for more. It definitely pulled me in straight away and instead of just reading one chapter, I read about eight. The book really does keep your attention until the very end.
Blackbirds follows Miriam Black, who has the ability to know when a person will die just by touching their skin. She sees visions of every type of death possible and each vision is crudely described so the true horror hits the reader head on. Her life is unpredictable one moment she could be watching someone having a heart attack and the next a car crash. On her journeys she meets Louis, a trucker who gives her a lift, but when she shakes his hand she sees that she will be the cause of his death. Miriam knows that fate gets what it wants and there's nothing she can do to stop it but she has to try doesnt she?
Miriam was a mega kick ass heroine, she had a sharp tongue and quick fists. She could easily hold her own, after all living pretty much on the streets toughens a women up. She has a cold hard persona because she sees things that no one else will ever know. She sees the true horrors of death. Her character was harsh and incredibly real. She has so many flaws and makes many mistakes but you stick by her until the end. She understands the harsh reality of the world and how no matter what your life is already planned out by fate, nothing can change that. She tries to make sense of the harsh world but it seems it's just throwing itself back in her face. Life's dirty and brutal and no one knows that better than Miriam. The other secondary characters were all solid and real, their own back stories showing the harsh realities of the world which is normally hidden behind closed doors.
Blackbirds is a dark novel, the writing is sharp and intense, even brutal. It doesn't mess around with silly prose instead it creates shocking horrors which hit straight home. Its one tense ride but it's incredible. There is a lot of violence in this book and lots of gory detail, so if your squeamish I would probably leave this book. It's because of the fine detail and harsh reality and prose that makes this book so good. Blackbirds is a truly intense ride. A roller coaster of bends and bumps that you'll never be prepared for. I loved it, it was so so much better than I expected.
Miriam Black knows how you will die. All she has to do is touch your skin and she gets a vision of how and when it will happen. Every time she’s tried to prevent a person’s death, she’s only succeeded in making it inevitable so instead she’s decided to use it to her advantage - scrounging a living by hooking up with those due to die shortly and then robbing them of cash and valuables after they’ve gone. But when she meets hulking truck driver Louis Darling, she sees him being horribly murdered in 30 days time as he calls out her name.
Miriam knows that she can’t save Louis and she’s distracted from even trying by ruthless conman Ashley Gaynes, who’s discovered the truth about her ability and wants to use it for his own financial ends. But Miriam’s fate is inextricably linked with Louis’s and there are forces out there that have plans for her gift and are determined to make her confront her destiny …
Chuck Wendig’s hard-boiled contemporary fantasy noir is a foul-mouthed, rollercoaster ride with a damaged, self-absorbed main character. Whether you like the book depends on whether you like Miriam and I thought she was terrific – a broken narcissistic cynic who’s in dire need of rescuing. Her relationship with the decent, hulking Louis who’s still traumatised by the death of his wife is touching and Wendig does well in having you dislike Miriam for what she’s doing while also understanding why she does it. It’s also a nice counterpoint to the hot sex and cold manipulation that ties her to the venal Ashley. The story’s split between what’s happening to Miriam now and a flashback interview she gives where she describes how her gift works and how she came to have it. My only real criticism is that the villains of the piece are underdeveloped and I’d have liked to have seen a more fleshed out motivation for their actions.
The dialogue in this novel is particularly good with Miriam’s foul-mouthed patter rattling along like a machine gun and I liked the fact that when Wendig reveals her backstory, it’s presented in unsentimental terms. The plot rattles along nicely with the different strands coming together in a satisfying way and although I did find the antagonists underdeveloped, I liked where Wendig took Miriam and will definitely read the sequel.
on 15 July 2012
With a mere touch of your skin Miriam Black can tell when and how you will die. She's seen old age take its toil, car crashes and heart attacks. Watching people's final moments, Miriam's gift makes her a guiding angel for death. But the burden takes a turn when she hitches a ride with truck rider Louis. Shaking his hand, she sees his imminent death and hears him call her name. Can Miriam escape the hand of fate or is she caught up in her own destiny?
As soon as you start reading Blackbirds it's hard to deny that it's violent and crass, overflowing with swearing, fighting, drinking and immorality. Those of a sensitive nature be warned. But if you are daring and willing enough to read, you will find a story that is unique, mesmerising and utterly compelling. Admittedly I had to skip a few gory paragraphs so as not to upset my delicate sensitivities, but even the raw violence couldn't stop me reading.
Having never read anything like it, Wendig's writing style is distinctive. Each word packs a punch - there isn't any fluff or unnecessary content. Likewise, the change between present and past give us insight into the different characters without breaking up the pace and flow.
As the female protagonist, Miriam is definitely unique and quite a character. Flitting from town to town, hitching rides and never settling down, she isn't necessarily a character I can easily relate to. But that didn't bother me, because I loved how different she was from me. Listening to a narrative full of swearing and anger I was enthralled by her unabashed honesty and frankness. Miriam certainly grew on me as unlikely but deserving hero.
The big question that Miriam struggles with throughout the story is whether fate can be changed. Able to see other people's death before it happens, Miriam is faced with the decision of intervening and trying to save them or letting fate take its natural course. It can't be an easy decision to make, every time you touch someone deciding whether you should attempt to save them from death or let the inevitable happen. And who would want to watch people die just by shaking their hand? But can fate be changed anyway? If fate decides how we die, can Miriam ever change it? The guilt of both trying and failing and doing nothing has taken its toll on Miriam; she drinks, sleeps around and gets into fights. You can feel her pain jump out of the pages, showing the vulnerability inside her tough shell.
Reading Blackbirds feels a little like your riding a rollercoaster; after tipping over that first crest you're pulled forward with a momentum that is paralysing and a force that is unstoppable. Miriam knows she's barrelling towards something, but she can't grasp how she'll get there or what will happen when she does. I was gripped with both anticipation but also uncertainty because I liked truck driver Louis. He's a genuine and decent guy, quite a rare thing in Blackbirds, and I didn't want someone so nice getting caught up in the horrific and ruthless dealings of Ingersoll. It's the kind of plot where you have to close your eyes, hold on tight and hope for the best.
What I liked about the characters in Blackbirds is that they are multi-dimensional. None of them are purely good or evil. Like real life, they're a blend of both, with good and bad parts. Even the bad guys Harriet and Ingersoll have a past and a history, a reason for who they are and why they do what they do. Seeing the other side of the coin, and the story behind people's behaviour, is always interesting as it plays on your emotions and almost makes you feel sorry for them. Almost but most definitely not. It did make me wonder though, whether evil is born or made, nature or nurture, or in Ingersoll's case possibly a mixture of both.
Blackbirds is a high energy, whisky-fuelled ride, that will pull you along for the journey and have you questioning whether we can change destiny. A must-read book by an author that is worth watching.
on 16 July 2012
Well that was brutal! I like dark and gritty, but in Blackbirds the dark will chill your soul and the grit grind your eyes out. I really shouldn't have liked Miriam, but I did. She's not the sort of person anyone would want to turn their back on, else she'd empty your pockets and rip you a new one with her razor tongue. In fact - in the real world - Louis is the only really decent person in the whole book.
There is no let up in the tale, no respite to catch your breath. Every page takes you to places you really wouldn't want to go, but part of you wants to visit just to see whats there.
A solid 5 stars for me, and already waiting for Mockigbird at the end of August.
on 10 February 2013
As a fan of Chuck Wendig's blog, i have wanted to read this novel for quite some time. I'm glad i finally have.
Sharp, witty prose, with not a word wasted, this is urban-fantasy at its very best.
Recommended for anybody who a, enjoys fast-paced fiction, and b, doesn't mind a lot of cuss words thrown at them. And there's a lot in Blackbirds. (if you don't believe me, check out 'The Collected Profanity Of Blackbirds And Mockingbirds' on YouTube -- you'll see what i mean).
If, like me, you don't mind a girl with a dirty mouth, give this book a go. You wont regret it.
(also check out the sequel 'Mockingbirds')
on 7 August 2012
Blackbirds is somewhat of a curious book. The hook is excellent and some of the writing mouth watering, yet there is something slightly off key. Having slept on it I think the issue is that story felt like two separate tales jammed together. On the one hand, it is the story of Miriam, a young woman who is street smart, damaged, fragile, feisty and generally messed up, who on touching someone sees a vision of their death, and her search for answers, redemption and some kind of hope and alternative future. Wendig does a great job at detailing her life, her thoughts, dreams and fears, mixing the present with her back story, and her tentative relationship with Louis, who is also damaged goods and looking for a new start. The characterization is excellent and I'd happily spend more time in her company. On the other hand, it is the story of small-time con artist, Ashley, and the three psychotic serial killers who are after him. Whilst Ashley is mildly interesting, Harriet, Frankie and Ingersoll are caricatures cookie-cut from serial killer dough. More awkward is the weaving of the two tales together. Ashley is stalking Miriam, whilst also on the run from Ingersoll and co, who are meant to be drug dealers. These are straight-up psychotic serial killers (a band of three), not drug dealers (with territory, networks, etc). It is not at all clear how Ashley is tracking Miriam, or how Ingersoll and co are tracking Ashley. Ashley simply turns up at whatever motel Miriam is staying and Harriet and Frankie arrive shortly after. This may be urban fantasy, but the plot has to make sense within the logic of the world created. The result, for me at least, was the fascinating and wonderful thread concerning Miriam was undermined by the intersecting storyline which didn't ring true. It did work to create tension and action, and a lot of swearing and violence, and to set up the endgame with respect to Louis, but this tale is all about Miriam and those elements could have been there without Ingersoll and co. Overall then, a story with a great hook and lead character, that has some striking, engaging prose, but a plotline that seems to fuse two tales that don't quite gel. I doubt I'll buy a book with a better cover this year; very intricate and striking.
on 17 July 2013
Miriam Black lives on the road. She hitchhikes, earning a living by stealing from people. To honor or dishonor of Miriam, but it needs to be said that she steals from the dead people. The fact is, Miriam is able to predict the death of another person. It is enough to touch someone's skin, and in her head there is the image: she sees, when and how a person dies. So, finding people who are about to die, she is either rubbed their trust or follow them, so that later, when the person is dead, she pick up the money that was there with him or her. You can't get rich this way, but it's enough for a living. Especially if a living means no home, friends, relatives, and no prospects for the future.
At the beginning of the novel Miriam takes the money from the wallet of a man, who had the heart attack just at the moment when he was about to have sex with Miriam in a hotel room. With a black eye and in dirty, torn clothes, Miriam gets in the truck and accidentally touches the driver. The vision shows that the driver named Louis will be brutally murdered in thirty days, and before his death he will call Miriam by name. Miriam, scared, leaves Louis, but their paths will cross yet. Death in the face of three psychopath murderers already comes on the heels.
Chuck Wendig, after the novella Shotgun Gravy, again makes the main character of his novel a woman. And hell, if I had not seen the author's name on the cover, it could be assumed that a book was written by a woman. Miriam Black is even more sophisticated creation from Wendig. She swears, is rude to dangerous types, keeps a diary, where records all her foresight, and her whole life is full of strangers and no loved ones.
Under a layer of black humor (Miriam no longer takes her life seriously after so many deaths in her head, and humor is the only protection to not go crazy) hides a very dark and full of despair story of a girl who is given a gitf (or, rather, curse) to see someone else's death but not given to prevent these deaths. The story itself is quite local, even small, but it is only that on the surface. Plotwise it is a road novel, with a pinch of noir, the cruel murderers, suitcase full of drugs and roguish hero with supernatural powers. There is something in Blackbirds that is significantly Stephen King-ish. This book could've been written by King of The Dead Zone and Misery, when he was writing 200 pages novels. This is also the story which is typically American, with roadside cafes, motels, gas stations and shady characters that can be found on both sides of the highway - occurring somewhere in the heart of the country.
But under a thin layer of the plot there is a thick layer of thoughts on the themes of life and death. Wendig doesn't waste words. To get to the point, he uses only one sentence instead of ten unlike 95 percent of the fantasy authors. Blackbirds is no fantasy, though. Just insanely good, acrid, burning prose. And the dialogues are top-notch.
Wendig is a phenomenal talent, breakthrough of the last year. Absolute must-read.
on 22 January 2013
Chuck Wendig writes like a tornado might - brutal force and energy with the power to create havoc with the merest change of direction.
Having just finished his novel `Blackbirds', I feel like I've passed through the storm, or even like I've been passed through the eye of a needle (and at 13 stone, that's not an image that should be possible). I'm glad to be at the other side now, but I'd happily jump right back in there for seconds.
Mr Wendig clearly knows his craft. His work is full of baited hooks that look so wonderful that they're impossible to resist. This achieves the effect of making the act of removing oneself from the pages something that's very difficult.
Better still, he's come up with an amazing premise - a girl who has the ability to see a person's death, something that comes to her through the simple act of touching skin. I guess that in itself that might not work, but throw in the fact that the she's as much a victim of fate as the subject of her visions and it becomes much more complex. Thankfully Mr Wendig doesn't leave this situation alone and gently picks at it until he's explored it completely.
The seer is called Miriam. She's a tough, rugged chick who lives on the road and feels she's doing well if she gets to sleep in a motel.
Miriam's all prepared for difficult situations, as she should be. In her bag, as well as her all-important diary, she carries a can of pepper spray, a butterfly knife, another can of pepper spray and a hand grenade. Most of these she'll use at one point or another.
She's using her power as a seer to take advantage of those who will die soon. It's a clever twist that makes a lot of sense.
Things go to pot, or more to pot, when she meets a trucker and discovers that she'll be there for his last moments and that his last moments will be with a murderous, bald man who seems keen to stab out his eyes. This seed is planted at the beginning of the book and will return as an ending, something that's clear early doors, yet there has to be a twist and it's worth the journey to find out exactly what that's going to be.
I'm not sure I can think of a book that has so many unique and poetic images. There's a phrase on every page, in every paragraph almost, that is so beautifully turned and appropriate that it's as if Mr Wendig has a genius form of Tourette's Syndrome. It's amazing the way they inhabit the page and more amazing that they're entirely appropriate. These are not darlings that need to be killed by the writer because, in a sense, they're like a skeleton throughout the story and they are part of the rhythm of this life. Even more impressive, the book feels like it's been written in one swoop as though the words have poured from the author without being engineered.
I wouldn't really like to be pinned down as to the genre of this novel. There's the central fantasy element, an on-the-road story with a buddy movie element, there's crime, layers of horror, comedy, poetry and philosophy. These all co-exist with ease. Thing is, and I think I mean this, it must be one of the quirkiest romances that's ever been written.
Yes, I reckon Mr Wendig's really a sweet honey with a heart of gold down there under all the warts and false-trails, a little like the character of Miriam herself.
Regardless of which genre it might be, this is a book that's worth its weight in gold - witness the oily slicks of the rainbows reflected in the blackbirds' wings, I urge you. The brilliant cover is matched and then some by the words inside, I promise.
A slight aside, I'd pick up the paperback if I were you; the cover really is something you'll want to have on your shelves.
I've emerged through this side of the storm, have been completely emotionally engaged throughout, and here I sit too nervous to put down my umbrella as I know this tale will follow me around for a good while yet.
on 8 December 2012
Blackbirds is a dark, brutal, intensely written joyride of a book. Enjoyed it so much after the first 10 chapters I bought the second book of the series.
Miriam Black is a young woman with an extraordinary curse, by touching someone skin to skin she can immediately see their final moments before death takes them, in explicit detail and written with such harrowing detail that every moment is memorable.
Miriam lives from day to day at the arse end of society, drifting from town to town, reduced to finding scores from the unfortunates whose time is almost up. She runs into a trucker named Louis and with some horror see's that she is there at his macabre killing. Thrown into turmoil, does she attempt to save him and divert fates hand or does she let it ride out knowing that if she gets involved she could well be the cause of his death, as has happened before every time she's tried to intervene.
Miriam is a compelling and likeable antihero, tough as nails, she drinks and smokes like there's no tomorrow, she's cold and has a sharp tongue with a wit to match. A truly riveting character with so many flaws, its hard not to be totally drawn in by her.
In fact all the characters are relevant, memorable and multi-dimensional, the lines between good and evil are blurred to some extent. Everybody has a reason for doing what they do, everybody has a past ands its an interesting, emotional journey discovering all their story's.
The story is laid out in short impact chapters, I'm a big fan of this as my personnel ocd is to always stop reading at a chapters end, not that I check my back doors locked 20 times before I go to bed its just the way I like to read
There are chapters containing Miriam's grim and vivid dreams, her past, the violence that surrounds her and the supporting cast including some particularly nasty individuals as they chase Miriam and the people she runs with all in pursuit of a caseload of drugs. The change's between past, present and dreams give an amazing insight into Miriam and the different characters without breaking up the pace and flow of the story - a credit to the author.
I must admit I've never read anything like this, Wendig's writing style is sharp, distinctive and every word packs a sledgehammer of a punch, nothing's padded out and I have to thank the author for not toning anything down to fit a YA profile.
I don't read many Urban Fantasy novels but coupled with the horror elements make this a fantastic read. Highly recommended