Friday, February 17, 2012

Book Review : Chuck Wendig - Blackbirds (2012)


Country: USA

Genre: Urban Fantasy/Crime

Pages: 288


*This is coming out in April. You can pre-order this bad boy here*


“OK. Calm down,” he says, putting his hands out.


Miriam grits her teeth. “That’s the worst thing you can say to somebody who’s not calm. It’s just gas on a fire, Louis.”

“I’m sorry. I’m not...trained in this.”


This? He means dealing with crazy people. Which she is, probably.


“I’m not trained in being this way, either” Though, she thinks, I’m getting better with it. Week by week, month by month, year by bloody year. One day, it’ll be water off a duck’s back.


“What’s wrong?” he asks.

“That’s the multi-million dollar question.”



I’m always suspicious of people with writing advice blogs. It’s because most of them are worthless. They are run by people who love to talk about writing more than writing in itself. You can see that in the generic nature of their advice. One of the reasons why Chuck Wendig’s terribleminds gained my readership, it’s because it’s a life raft in a dark sea of lonely people with demented dreams of literary grandeur. The man wrote a lot and it shows beyond his Amazon writer page. His writing advice is precise and shaped by his knowledge of the battlefield. Understandably, I was very curious to see what he could deliver. I got my hands on an ARC of his upcoming novel BLACKBIRDS and let me tell you, dear readers. Chuck Wendig is not all talk. The man writes fiction like a cokehead drives a motorcycle. Lean, mean and obscene, as James Ellroy would say.

Miram Black is a young woman, damaged by an unlikely curse. If she touches people skin to skin, she will see how they die. On a long enough time period, you see a lot of deaths. A lot of fucked up things and the worst part is that you can’t prevent them. Fate is a crippling force. So Miriam is drifting along, doing con jobs and hating life in general, until she meets Louis. A nice trucker who picked her up after a hard day. When they touch, she has a horrible vision. Louis is going to be murdered in a few weeks, while calling her name. Miriam sees a lot of deaths. So much that she has given up on trying to save anybody, but seeing someone she actually likes being murdered motivates her to try her luck one more time against fate.

Mark my words. Miriam Black is going to make Chuck Wendig a very wealthy man. BLACKBIRDS is a high-octane, action packed novel that will leave in a pitiful state to work, after a night of frenzied reading. It is one of the most well-plotted and well-paced novels I have read and I read an industrial number of novels every year. What Wendig understands that most novelists don’t is that pacing and plotting are intimately linked. So whenever there’s a high action scene, it’s not just a bunch of actions crammed together, but it’s delivered with great atmosphere and precise detail that makes the scene memorable. There are many plot twists to BLACKBIRDS who will make you stand up and yell “OH MY FUCKING GOOOOOOD. NO WAY” but they are strategically placed in the story, so you never know when you’ll be slapped across the face. Keeps a reader tense, believe me. All in all, it’s a crazy story I could very well see on film in the next few years.

“No,” she seethes, “I look like I do heroin - and I don’t do that either. I have all my teeth and I don’t smell like cat piss, so don’t think I’m some basehead tweaker fuckface.”

Isn’t it a little poetic? Another trait that puts Wendig ahead of the competition is his peculiar use of language. Profanity being a category if its own. It’s safe to call BLACKBIRDS a foul-mouthed novel in general, but Wendig does it with so much style and fervor that it adds a special spicy flavor to it. Not everybody will like this, but I enjoyed it. I do have a few complaints with BLACKBIRDS because I’m a bit of a nitpicky bastard (OK, I totally am nitpicky). Some of the characters were a little cliché. The baddies for example. Not all of them, but most of them were you know, generic baddies with a bar code on their forehead. * It was a little bit of a nagging issue for me, but the story was so strong in general and Miriam such a driving force with her complex inner life (illustrated very creatively by Wendig) that I didn’t care much. It does so many things right that I can overlook the little things it did wrong.

I have a lot of things to say about this, don’t I? I can’t close this review without slipping a word about the themes in BLACKBIRDS. I know I’m discussing the technical merit of this novel a lot, but technique is nothing without a sense of purpose. It’s one thing to have a plot like a chessboard, but it’s the thinking behind the moving pieces that make the game great. While remaining classic in its form, doesn’t give into the good vs evil duality that’s often used in supernatural, you have something a lot less obvious and a lot deeper. Downtrodden loser versus fate. Loser versus luck. It seems evident said like that, but someone who loses a lot defines himself by his very lack of luck (and Miriam IS one unlucky girl). Having to challenge fate is not only immaterial, but it’s a fight against yourself. Very interesting dynamic behind the discourse of BLACKBIRDS. It's also rather new, in this particular genre.

I might be wrong, but knowing Chuck Wendig has experience in tabletop roleplaying games and in their design, I thought it showed. Having experience as a game master myself, I thought the plot of BLACKBIRDS had this nutty quality of a RPG where you have to be wild, interesting and coherent, episode after episode. I think that’s the moving power behind this terrific story. Read it if you like supernatural stories. Read it if you DON’T like supernatural stories (yeah, I know. I just said that). Read it if you like good novels because BLACKBIRDS is a great one.



FOUR STARS**


* To be fair, it could be stylistically explainable.

** But it flirts with the five.

4 comments:

  1. I've been reading Wendig's blog for a while now, I think about a year and a half, but something's kept me from checking out his fiction. I think, like you, I have some natural ingrained suspicion of people who write writing advice blogs - I will happily read what they have to tell me, but I don't always trust that their own writing will match up to the blog's quality. Still, when I saw on goodreads that you were reading this...and then realized that it's not out yet...I was totally overwhelmed with jealousy. I can't wait till Blackbirds is released. When I first heard of it I wanted to read it mostly for the cover, but the plotting sounds great - am so curious, now, to see how Wendig pulls this off.

    Great review, as always!

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  2. Ditto Ellen. Chuck's blog is a must-read and the only "advice" column I bother reading, but my exposure to his fiction has been minimal. I'm looking forward to Blackbirds, but I think I'm also going to check out his backlist too. He's a cool guy with cool ideas.
    By the way, this was a really nicely-written review, one of your best.

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  3. And it has a Joey HiFi cover! I've pre-ordered it just for the cover as I have started collecting them but good to know it's a worthwhile read too :)

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  4. The premise of this one sounds promising. All this time I was admiring the cover I never actually bothered to find out what the book was about. Good stuff, Ben. I'll definitely keep my eye out for this one now.

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