Jul 24, 2012

[Books] Blackbirds

Given my first Chuck Wendig adventure with his book Double Dead, I figured it was time to get around to reading the book that first brought him to my attention - his most recent novel Blackbirds. And I have io9 to thank for that.

Now I doubt I would have fully appreciated Chuck Wendig's works had it not been for my exposure to the World of Darkness gaming systems thanks to my partner, Tobie Abad. I don't necessarily think that gaming experience is required to enjoy his books - just that they'd normally be out of my typical reading range. But thanks to the certainly dreary realms of the World of Darkness, I came all the more prepared for these books.

And I also mention this since the author, Chuck Wendig, has done a lot of work for White Wolf  and the influence of this experience certainly shows through in how he writes or how he depicts his characters. And seriously, there are few things more disturbing and terrifying than a writer who knows how to manipulate the minds and hearts of a gaming group, believe me.

Synopsis: Blackbirds is a horror novel written by Chuck Wendig. This is his second independent novel released under the Angry Robot Books imprint.

We meet Miriam Black - a strange drifter girl who possesses a dark gift. With a single touch, she can see how a person will die - and eventually can even determine when. But it seems she only uses this power to find people near death, wait for their time of passing and then loot their bodies for loose change and other small valuables. Just enough to get by but not enough to get noticed. Thus she travels from city to city, learning of the deaths of hundreds of people and eventually logging them all down in her diary.

But then something unusual happens, even for her. After hitching a ride with a trucker named Louis, she accidentally learns that he'll die in about a month's time. While this in itself isn't all that new to her, the fact that it's a cruel and painful death is rather jarring. But what is even more disturbing is the fact that Louis mentions her name just before he dies. But her gift has proven to have severe limitations - she is unable to change the fate that she predicts for those she touches. But perhaps this time action is needed - especially since the next victim after Louis may be Miriam herself.

Now if you've read Double Dead or even Chuck Wendig's blog at Terrible Minds, then the rather abrasive and often foul-mouth nature of Miriam and Chuck's other protagonists will not be too much of a surprise. That said, if you're not into a lot of cursing, swearing and the occasional bit of casual fornicating, then this may not be the book for you. But to his credit, he still manages to make such tragic characters like Miriam still likable - which is a key trait that any protagonist needs on the part of the reader.

Of course what is of primary interest would have to be Miriam's unique ability to predict a person's death - one that is wonderfully portrayed as a sudden flash of insight in Miriam's head that only lasts for a fraction of a second in the real world. To better explain things, there are alternate chapters of the book that take us away from the central action of the story and instead take us to various interludes involving a interview that Miriam agrees to participate in as she tells her story and other odd dream sequences and such wanderings of the mind. They do a lot of keep you in suspense with regard to the central plot and yet also help further flesh out her character and just how she became to be the rather opportunistic and cynical nomad.

There are times when it does become a bit difficult to root for Miriam given how she tends to think only of herself most of the time. But as the story progresses and we get to read more of her life story in the interludes, then her motivations start to make a bit more sense. But don't expect her to become some sort of noble hero at the end of things - but she won't be quite so vile either. That counts for something, right?

I so want to go into detail with regard to the "villains" of this story, but that may be giving too much away. While at first they seem more like stereotypes who don't deserve the time of day. But don't let initial impressions carry you away - they're pretty complex ones in their own right, especially when the "big bad guy" is finally revealed.

Blackbirds is definitely an interesting venture into a dark world of death, and that hardly captures what the book is really like when you read it. I still strongly recommended it and give it a healthy rating of 4 disturbing death visions out of a possible 5.

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