Author: Chuck Wendig
Publisher: Angry Robot
Format: Kindle eBook
Take a broken, drifting female protagonist — a bit misguided, but tough as nails. Maybe you compare her to Lisbeth Salander (you know, the heroine of Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy), but instead of having a hacker-level of tech savviness, she has an ability much like Johnny Smith in The Dead Zone — she can foresee the cause and time of death of everyone she encounters. Throw in some punk frat boys, a gentle giant trucker, a con man and some of the vilest, sadistic people you have ever come across and you have the cast of Blackbirds.
Before I give my thoughts on the book, I think it is necessary that I give a bit of a warning. This book is crass. I’m not talking about several four-letter words being used here and there. This book taught me words that I would have been much happier never knowing the definition (e.g. blumpy). The experiencing of reading Blackbirds is akin to watching the torture porn as seen in the Saw franchise. My comment is more of a warning than a judgment, so let’s begin the review.
Miriam Black is a twenty-something woman with the unique ability to see how and when a person dies whenever she comes into contact with them. Because of past events, she sees this as more of a curse than a blessing. We don’t really come to terms with how she gained this ability, but we learn that it isn’t something she was born with.
She is somewhat of an antihero throughout the first half of the novel. She wanders somewhat aimlessly, stealing money from people whose death she foresaw in previous encounters. When a large, benevolent trucker helps her out during an altercation along the roadside, she is changed. She sees that she is responsible for his death and makes it her personal mission to make sure that it doesn’t happen.
Chuck Wendig’s talent in this novel lies mainly in the narrative voice. The novel is primarily (though not exclusively) told through Miriam’s viewpoint. Her vile thoughts are almost masculine in nature, often drifting to excrement and genitalia, but she is spunky and resourceful — someone the reader can cheer for. There is a trend in fiction for gritty characters and Miriam epitomizes this character trait. She’s cynical and filled with angst, but inside there is a dim light that wants to overcome her internal darkness.
Much of the novel deals with Miriam’s interactions with the various people she meets. We are told the death stories of dozens of characters (some of which leave little to the imagination) and each of these encounters has a burdening effect on Miriam. She grows distant, accepting fate for what it appears to be.
Blackbirds is not the first novel to tackle fate versus free-will, but to be honest, I really don’t tire of the subject. The whole novel hinges on her ability to change the future, which experience has taught her is an impossible task. She has already come to terms with this fact, which makes her keep her distance from others — not wanting to be the cause of anyone’s death (our first glimpse of good in her).
The pacing is quick and the novel is short, making it quite easy for me to finish it in a day. The book is much like what you’d find in an old Stephen King novel, which for me brings back many memories. I enjoyed reading the story, cringed in several places and the ending left me somewhat satisfied. Aside from the vulgarity, I would not call Blackbirds a particularly memorable read, but it was a good book to pick up after making my way through some 600-page marathons as of late. For those who want to read a dark, gritty supernatural thriller (and have the stomach for the vile), Blackbirds is a fast and exciting read.