Monday, January 21, 2013

Review | Blackbirds by Chuck Wendig

Chuck Wendig
Miriam Black #1
Published 2012 by Angry Robot
Urban fantasy
4 stars

Miriam Black knows when you will die.

She’s foreseen hundreds of car crashes, heart attacks, strokes, and suicides.

But when Miriam hitches a ride with Louis Darling and shakes his hand, she sees that in thirty days Louis will be murdered while he calls her name. Louis will die because he met her, and she will be the next victim.

No matter what she does she can’t save Louis. But if she wants to stay alive, she’ll have to try.

It's really difficult to split this review into things I liked and things I didn't like, so I'm just going to talk without all the organization. Blackbirds was a unique, enthralling read. I could easily have finished it in one sitting, but then my brain would have exploded from disturbing-ness and we wouldn't want that. But the story and the characters were fascinating and even though it didn't end in a cliffhanger, I really want the next book.

Maybe it's because I don't read a lot of horror, but Blackbirds disturbed me in a way that no book has since I read about people being tortured on Catherine wheels when I was twelve. I'm not saying this was a bad thing, but it did mean I had to take breaks every few chapters.

A lot of the disturbing-ness was plain old gruesome violence. Blackbirds contains death, murder, torture, pain, and all sorts of savagery and it's written in a more significant way than what I normally read; there's no glossing over the mayhem here. Some of it is also how screwed-up the majority of the characters are. Again, not a bad thing -- the characters are well-written and interesting. They're just screwed up. Some of them are legitimately evil. Few are legitimately good. Mostly they're somewhere in between.

Part of the unusual impact of the grittier scenes comes from the fact that the book is written in third person present. While first person present is common in YA novels and third person past is probably the most common narrative style there is, I don't think I've ever seen third person present used for an entire book before. In most cases I would say it's a bad choice because the surprise of a different style can jar the reader out of the story (that's how I feel about 1st person present), but here it works really, really well. It reflects the way Miriam, the main character, thinks and it gives the story greater impact.

Miriam's ability, knowing how people will die when she touches them, is one I've actually seen once before, in Meg Cabot's Insatiable, but this story is so much darker (and better) that I could never compare the two. Having this knowledge and not being able to do anything about it is the main source of Miriam's issues, and I found her reaction very believable.

In this book, everyone had a story that explained why they were who they were. I think it gave the characters greater depth to know that the bad guys were bad guys for a reason. That led to a better plot and to a better book overall. Blackbirds was really excellent on so many levels, and I would definitely recommend it to anyone who's not squeamish.

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