Thursday, July 19, 2012

Book Review: Blackbirds

Now, I'm not usually an Urban Fantasy guy, but I gotta admit, the sub-genre is starting to grow on me, ever so slowly.  So I thought I'd get a bit more Urban Fantasy seasoning with Chuck Wendig's Blackbirds.

Blackbirds is a straight forward, fast-paced novel that stars one of the most abrasive protagonists I've ever experienced.  Her name is Miriam, and she can tell when you are going to die.  All it takes is a single touch, and boom, she knows the exact time, and date of your demise, and can even see the event play out in her mind's eye.

Not the greatest of special abilities to acquire, not even close.

As you might imagine, given the nature of her ability, she isn't the kind of gal who seeks out the company of others.  She isn't a recluse though, more of a drifter; never staying in one place long enough to get to know names, let alone recognize faces.  That said, she doesn't go the Rouge, a la X-Men, route and wear gloves and avoid all human contact either.  On the occasions when she does make contact with another person she accepts their death for what it is, (after all, everyone dies eventually) and goes about her business.  That is until she meets Louis.

Louis seemed like just another trucker she was hitching a ride from but when she accidentally makes contact with him and sees his death, and hears him call out her name while he dies she knows his death is due to his association with Miriam...and chances are, she'll be the killer's next victim. Now, if she wants to stay alive, Miriam must find a way to thwart fate itself.

Blackbirds is a book that is, for better or worse, driven by the personality of Miriam. Thanks to her special ability, Miriam tends to fend off human contact by the sheer force of her abrasive personality.  She's very quick to drive people away with venomous words and put downs, which on the one hand, makes her tough to like, but pretty fun to read.  I found myself evenly torn between like and dislike.  Still, the fact the Wendig is able to make me feel strongly about Miriam shows that he is capable of writing a story with a memorable character.

Once you move away from Miriam, the other characters seem to pale in comparison.  This might haven been a deliberate thing done by Wendig to ensure that Miriam stands out as the driving force in the story, but it also means that the other characters that populate this tale seem to embody a specific, one-dimensional personality type and not much else.

On the pacing front, this is a story that zips right along. Wendig is economic in his ability to deliver the story, pertinent background info, and character development all while tying it into the narrative so that the reader never feels like they are getting information dropped on their heads. A nice skill to say the least.

In addition to this being a book that flows along like a raging river, it's also a damn quick read.  Blackbirds is one of those books that could easily be consumed in one fell swoop. I read this one on my Kindle, so it was hard to gauge length, but when I cross referenced where I was in the story with a hard copy of the book at a bookstore, I was surprised to see how much of the book I was able to devour in the small moments I carve out for reading.

So, in the end you get a book with an interesting premise, an engaging lead character, and an easily devoured, fast-paced read.  If I were to liken reading this novel to eating, I'd say it's a lot like eating a doughnut; Initially tasty, and easily consumed, but not exactly something that will provide the best sustenance.  Though Blackbirds is an enjoyable read, it is easy come, easy go, and not a book that I foresee living long in my memory.  It's hard to put my finger on what exactly it is missing, but it doesn't quite toggle all my switches.  Worth checking out, but not a must-read.

Grade: C+


Bryce L. said...

I started reading this one, but it was way too dark and depressing for what I'm doing right now. Thinking that much about death is not the thing to do while studying for the bar.

Ryan said...

Yeah, it is pretty dark and depressing. When studying for tests I like to read the "lighter" and fun stuff too.

Maybe a Demon Squad reread is in need?

Bryce L. said...

I need to read Echoes of the Past already. Been meaning to, but other stuff's been getting in the way. Bar's next week at least and then so much reading...and then so much less reading when the twins come a week later. Masochism is not cool.

Ryan said...

Damn! You are busy! Good luck with all of that.