I am a devourer of books. Not in the literal, paper-eating sense, but I’ll be in the middle of two or three or four at any given time. Rarely does one book crowds out all the others vying for my attention. Rarer still do I finish a book and set it down, quietly stunned, unable to pick up the next on the pile because I’m so deliciously haunted by what I’ve just read.*
Chuck Wendig’s Blackbirds is now on that list.
Before you read any further, look at artist Joey HiFi’s amazing cover:
Take a good, long gander. If you want to see an embiggened version, go peek at it on the Angry Robot site. I’ll wait.
Lovely, isn’t it? Lovely and gritty and a little bit scary, which is about how I’d describe Ms. Miriam Black herself. Miriam can, at a touch, tell you how you’ll die. Fate’s not keen on her changing the plan, and in fact, Miriam’s past attempts at thwarting have only resulted in her helping out.
While she’s not keen on exploiting her ability, other people have no such compunctions. She’s dragged kicking and screaming into a hot, bad-news troublemaker’s terrible plan. A pair of shady, totally-not-FBI-agents and their creepy motherfucker of a boss are after her, thanks to said troublemaker.
And as if that’s not enough, a nice man named Louis is going to bite it within the next month. Oh, and he’s calling Miriam’s name on his way out.
Blackbirds is tightly plotted and breathlessly paced. I’ve railed here or elsewhere on the internet about writers using the present tense, but Wendig is one of a handful of authors who pulls it off flawlessly (I knew this going in; I dug the hell out of his Atlanta Burns novella Shotgun Gravy, too.) Miriam’s up against the clock, and we feel the weeks, the days, then the hours and the minutes ticking away as she tries to do the impossible: save a man whose death the universe has already decreed.
Wendig’s style is spare and conversational, almost begging to be read aloud. I am seriously contemplating picking up the audio version of it, in fact. He pulls no punches, kicking the asses of pretty much everyone we encounter along Miriam’s path (I think maybe a bartender escapes unscathed.) Yet, in the middle of this breakneck ride, Blackbirds makes you stop and think.
How do you cope with knowing what might be the most intimate detail of other peoples’ lives? When do you stop running and tell fate No, fuck you. Your terms suck? How far would you go to stick by that declaration?
Pick this one up, cats ‘n’ kittens.
*Among Others by Jo Walton was the most recent, I believe.