Author: Chuck Wendig
Publisher: Angry Robot
Format: Audio (purchased from Audible.com)
I had a rather tepid review of the first Miriam Black novel, Blackbirds. The book had its issues — an overuse of crassness for the sake of shock value and some inconsistencies, I felt, in Miriam’s abilities at changing the future. But in my review, I was dead wrong when I said that Blackbirds was not a “particularly memorable read.” Here I was, months later, wanting to give the series another shot. Not so much for the plot, but for the character of Miriam Black. She is absolutely unforgettable.
You see, Miriam isn’t a run-of-the-mill, cardboard cutout protagonist. She’s edgy. She’s cool. She lives in the cracks of society where most of us don’t dare to venture. Oh, yeah — she has this unique ability to tell how and when a person is going to die after touching their skin.
In the first novel she was single — a drifter with ever-changing hair and a real hard attitude toward the world. In Mockingbird, she is trying to live a more stable life. Her hair is back to its natural chestnut and she has a place of residence (albeit a trailer on the Jersey shore). In fact, she even has a job working as a cashier, scanning items with her gloved hands in an effort to suppress her gift.
As one can expect, Miriam’s stable life doesn’t last long. It’s just not her and after a run-in with her boss, she takes off her gloves (literally) and goes after her. Through this confrontation, she sees that a killer is about to go on a shooting spree and she steps into her newfound role as heroine. A gritty and scrappy, take-no-prisoners heroine, that is.
Miriam later becomes acquainted with a hypochondriac teacher named Katie at a troubled girls school who wants to know if she is about to die. To Miriam’s surprise, Katie is about to die — of pancreatic cancer of all things. The teacher’s death is but a blip of what is going to happen at this school. Miriam accidentally reads the death of one of the school’s students and learns that a serial killer is loose and this girl will be one of his victims. With the help of her one-eyed trucker boyfriend, Louis, Miriam embarks on a journey to save this girl and rid the world of a terrible monster.
In the first novel, Miriam comes to grips with her hard, loveless attitude toward pretty much everything. She uses her gift for good rather than her selfish devises (originally believing that events are controlled solely through fate). In the second novel, she understands that in rare circumstances, she can circumvent fate’s hold. But it is hard work and rather than embrace her gift, she tries to conform to society. Whether or not to use her gifts is the first bit of complexity in her character.
She also fights her internal feelings of self-inadequacy, preferring to leave Louis for his own good, rather than dragging him down to the low depths of her morality. She was once uncaring for anyone, but now is willing to form friendships even when it leads to future hardships. Throughout the novel, Miriam reluctantly forms relationships, even with the foreknowledge that it will cause pain in the end.
Mockingbird reads like a superhero novel in that she has supernatural abilities and acts as a vigilante to stop an archnemesis. Her archnemesis, who is unknown throughout much of the book, also has a certain ability that makes Miriam aware that she is not alone in the world. Some might even consider her heroics a mission of revenge, bearing many similarities to the comic book and movie hero, Eric, from The Crow.
The biggest question that remains with me is when can Miriam change fate? After reading two novels, it seems that she can only change fate when the reader has an emotional stake in a person’s death. While this is convenient in plot development, I would really like for Miriam to understand her gift a little bit better (note: see comments for what I oversaw in the novel — spoiler warning)
There are some unanswered questions that still remain (in a good way) — are there supernatural forces outside of her that are giving her and Louis visions or is it all inside her head? Does she have telepathic abilities to communicate?
After a hesitant start to the series, I will be reading future Miriam Black novels, hoping that Mr. Wendig will continue to push deeper into Miriam’s psyche and abilities — explore who she is on a deeper level and not hold back as she tries to distance herself from those around her. Good improvement in this novel and if you liked the first one, you will definitely like the second.