Book review: Blackbirds by Chuck Wendig (Angry Robot Books)

It was 1984 and the Miami Vice look was in. Reaganomics was in full swing, Mary Lou Retton was America’s sweetheart, and the Beastie Boys blew up everything I thought I knew about music.

It’s 2012, and Chuck Wendig just did the same thing to everything I thought I knew about writing.

Wendig’s novel, Blackbirds, is — like the Beastie Boys’ seminal album License to Ill — by turns vulgar, angry, funny, harsh, cruel, and nasty. It’s also more than the sum of its parts. Where do you begin a review of a book like Blackbirds?

First, the book defies categorization. Nominally urban fantasy, it’s also part crime novel, and part thriller. There’s even a dash of (very) unconventional love story.

Look in the dictionary under the word audacious. There’ll be a picture of Chuck Wendig.

Let’s start with the language. Its in-your-face mentality is there from the start, like a sucker punch in the mouth. The first paragraphs made me back up and wonder what the heck I was reading. I literally found myself going from “What the hell is this?” to “Hey, not bad,” to “Wow. I HAVE TO BUY THIS BOOK!” while I read the first few pages on Amazon.

To say I’m jealous of this guy’s talent would be a massive understatement. As a writer, though, Wendig’s style is a challenge to me to up my own game, to push harder, to make myself better. He’s that kind of writer: He makes you want to be a better prose stylist.

Did I mention audacious? Because this book is.

Blackbirds follows Miriam Black — a woman gifted (or cursed) with the ability to see when people will die. When we meet Miriam, she’s a nihilistic, chain-smoking, hard-drinking slut. No offense to my nihilistic, chain-smoking, hard-drinking slutty friends. Miriam should be unlikeable, and she is — to a point. When Miriam meets long-haul trucker Louis, things get really interesting — because Miriam’s vision of his death directly involves her.

Along the way, Miriam gets roped into a robbery scam by a meth-addicted con artist and comes into contact with three of the nastiest bad guys I’ve ever seen in print.

(It’s really hard to review this novel without giving away spoilers.)

The best part of the book is Miriam’s journey from passive acceptance of other people’s fates to active participant in trying to prevent Louis’ death. At the end of the novel, Miriam is still damaged — as is Louis. Hell, every character in the book is damaged in some way by the end of the book. And that’s not a bad thing. We’re all damaged. Life does that to us. Miriam and Louis’ scars may be a little more visible, that’s all.

My only complaint with the e-book version I read? Formatting and typographical errors. If indie authors like Kait Nolan can format and edit manuscripts correctly in e-book form, I expect a well-regarded publisher like Angry Robot Books to be able to do the same. Still, I paid $6.01 for the e-book, and the story is worth every penny.

As an aside: Wendig runs a writing blog: Terrible Minds. Unfortunately for me, it’s a better blog than this one. Bastard. His vulgar rants on writing and publishing are worth a read. Just sayin’.

Blackbirds gets my highest recommendation — it’s available in paperback at your local bookstore or as an e-book on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. You’ll be able to say you knew Wendig when he was just a wee penmonkey — a writer with his talent is going places. You’ll want to be along for the ride.


3 thoughts on “Book review: Blackbirds by Chuck Wendig (Angry Robot Books)

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