Author: Chuck Wendig
Publisher: Angry Robot
In the midst of Chuck Wendig’s successful Miriam Black series comes a new series. The first entry, The Blue Blazes, features an equally tough protagonist by the name of Mookie Pearl. He was a mine worker who eventually worked his way to the top of The Organization, a conglomerate of New York’s nastiest street gangs. Beneath the city is an underworld filled with monsters that long to stretch their dominion. There are goblins, ghost, golems, giant cankerworms and these strange shadowy figures that envelop their prey in the folds of their invisible wings. These creatures are invisible to the naked eye — that is unless one is doped up on the underworld powdered drug known as blue blazes.
Mookie’s role is simple — he takes care of business. Whether it’s fighting a pack of goblins (gobbos) or tracking down derelict members of one of the street gangs, he uses his brute strength and street-fighting sensibility to maintain order. The man is impenetrable aside from his one Achilles’ heel — his love for his daughter, Nora.
The word on the street is that Nora’s been spreading information that The Organization’s boss has come down with cancer. His only heir is his grandson, who by most accounts appears unfit to take the helm. These rumors incite disorder among the ranks and Mookie (whose fatherhood of Nora remains secret) must confront her before she winds up dead.
The situation for Nora escalates even further after she is caught on video committing a terrible crime and Mookie finds his loyalty at odds. He wants to save Nora while maintaining loyalty to The Organization, but the task seems impossible. Unless she is innocent.
A rumored drug called red rage holds the key to their survival and Mookie is willing to plunge into the depths of the underworld to get it. Upon his return, he finds that the above world is even less friendly. Suddenly, the entire fate of New York City rests on his shoulders.
Let me state the obvious here before I review the story — the cover art is amazing! Joey Hi-Fi does fantastic artwork for both Lauren Beukes and Chuck Wendig and it keeps getting better with every novel. It is simple at first glance, yet has so much detail and depth that ties into the novel. It probably deserves a review of its own.
As for the novel, Wendig has proven himself to be a reliable and prolific author. What I expect in picking up a Wendig novel is a tough, street-wise, smart ass protagonist with a hard shell and a soft spot inside. I expect punchy dialog, snappy prose, and a gritty narrative voice. With The Blue Blazes you get everything you expect and hope for out of Wendig.
In addition to being an urban fantasy, The Blue Blazes has elements of noir and mystery, with Mookie playing a dual role of an action hero and a pulp detective. His character is strong, but unlike Miriam Black, he isn’t what sticks with you after finishing the novel. For me, the novel’s greatest strength lies in its milieu. Many of the classic monsters from the tabletop RPG’s of yore hide in the mines, sewers and deep caverns below the city. We have been beat over the head with zombies and werewolves and vampires and here comes Wendig with a rich, fantastical world full of fresh, but recognizable monsters to battle. I loved the primitive weapons the gobbos used in fighting (e.g. a fanged, baby goblin strapped to the end of a stick) and the rock golems provide an uncanny twist to the world.
My criticisms of the novel are really quite minor and almost not worth mentioning. I did feel at times that the multiple points of view were a little jarring and it took me awhile to understand the true relationship of Mookie with his daughter and ex-wife. But criticisms aside, you won’t go wrong with this novel. It is inventive, edgy, and a joy to read. There are so many possibilities for the series in the future. The underworld drugs play a vital role in the plot development, turning mere men into superheroes and there are a rainbow of drugs to be discovered in subsequent novels. I also suspect that in the deeper crevices of the underworld we will find even greater foes beyond our wildest imaginations. If you haven’t read Chuck Wendig before, it’s time you get yourself acquainted. Feel free to start with this novel — with good characters, a fascinating world, and a satisfying plot, you can’t go wrong.