Tuesday, August 7, 2012
Review of Blackbirds by Chuck Wendig (Angry Robot, 2012)
Blackbirds is somewhat of a curious book. The hook is excellent and some of the writing mouth watering, yet there is something slightly off key. Having slept on it I think the issue is that story felt like two separate tales jammed together. On the one hand, it is the story of Miriam, a young woman who is street smart, damaged, fragile, feisty and generally messed up, who on touching someone sees a vision of their death, and her search for answers, redemption and some kind of hope and alternative future. Wendig does a great job at detailing her life, her thoughts, dreams and fears, mixing the present with her back story, and her tentative relationship with Louis, who is also damaged goods and looking for a new start. The characterization is excellent and I’d happily spend more time in her company. On the other hand, it is the story of small-time con artist, Ashley, and the three psychotic serial killers who are after him. Whilst Ashley is mildly interesting, Harriet, Frankie and Ingersoll are caricatures cookie-cut from serial killer dough. More awkward is the weaving of the two tales together. Ashley is stalking Miriam, whilst also on the run from Ingersoll and co, who are meant to be drug dealers. These are straight-up psychotic serial killers (a band of three), not drug dealers (with territory, networks, etc). It is not at all clear how Ashley is tracking Miriam, or how Ingersoll and co are tracking Ashley. Ashley simply turns up at whatever motel Miriam is staying and Harriet and Frankie arrive shortly after. This may be urban fantasy, but the plot has to make sense within the logic of the world created. The result, for me at least, was the fascinating and wonderful thread concerning Miriam was undermined by the intersecting storyline which didn’t ring true. It did work to create tension and action, and a lot of swearing and violence, and to set up the endgame with respect to Louis, but this tale is all about Miriam and those elements could have been there without Ingersoll and co. Overall then, a story with a great hook and lead character, that has some striking, engaging prose, but a plotline that seems to fuse two tales that don’t quite gel. I doubt I’ll buy a book with a better cover this year; very intricate and striking.