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Blackbirds by Chuck Wendig

Blackbirds (edition 2012)

by Chuck Wendig

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4355424,192 (3.78)34
Authors:Chuck Wendig
Info:Angry Robot (2012), Edition: Original, Mass Market Paperback, 384 pages
Collections:Read 2012, Own, ARC, Your library, eBook
Tags:fiction, from publisher, fantasy, humorous, fate, violence, drugs, hallucinations

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Blackbirds by Chuck Wendig

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How to create an urban fantasy heroine as unlikeable and trashy as you can, see Blackbirds. The unlikeable part is completely personal. Some will love her. I couldn't. She calls herself garbage twice. That is two times too many.

Miriam Black has a misfortune to see how people are going to die when she touches them. As she herself says, she is a vulture. She waits it out and takes their money and moves on. The ability is not explained though. I am assuming it will be in other books in the series.
She talks a lot, swears a lot. Nothing surprising considering what you find out about her in the course of the story. The swearing is opposite what she was taught, so she does it a lot. She moves from place to place mostly hitch-hiking and that is how she meets Louis, the only character in the book that I don't want to kill. She sees his death but this time it is different - he says her name before he dies. The blurb is a bit too revealing since you find out that happens because he met her later in the book. The other part of the blurb is misleading. It gives an impression of Miriam trying to save him throughout the book. The only thing she, along with all other characters except Louis, was trying is my patience.

The story is written in present tense which, even if I don't like it that much, helps to move this story really fast. What slows it down though is all the actions of horrible people. You move with the characters from place to place and not a single person stands out as someone you would at least tolerate, let alone like.

The best part of this book are descriptions. I don't remember if I have ever read a book full of one-sentence descriptions that are so sufficient and funny. This book needed funny. 'Harriet Adams is whiter than an untanned ass, bleached like ocean-soaked bone.' * 'Sky's just a Vaseline smear of formless clouds - a bright, greasy layer of grey.' * 'If he were a bagel, he'd be plain.' * 'She tells the bartender, who looks like a pile of uncooked Pillsbury dough stuffed into a dirty black T-shirt, that she needs a drink.' The book is full of these and they brighten the story if only for one moment.

After reading it, you'll realize that there is no strong story. It is all somewhere under Miriam's obnoxious attitude and other people's terrible actions. The main villain wouldn't be out of place in a Monty Python show. This is one of those books very hard to rate. ( )
  Irena. | Jan 28, 2016 |
Miriam has a gift or a curse as she would say is more fitting; she can see when someone is going to die by simply touching their skin. As time passes she has learned to use these situations to her advantage. She sees it as fate and despite what she may or may not do fate cannot be changed. When Miriam crosses paths with a truck driver, Louis, and views his death she is taken back. He is to die a torturous death within the month and before he dies he says her name. Bothered by this turn in events she wants nothing to do with him but their paths keep crossing, after all it is fate. A very intense story filled with violence, language, and some sex, despite that it is well written and envelops the reader into their domain. ( )
  vibrantminds | Apr 16, 2015 |
Blackbirds is an excellent book. I didn't want to like it, but Wendig's tight prose and penetrating insight ended up charming me. I'm honestly pretty tired of the antihero/anti-heroine morality play where the "evil" character ends up showing more human value and virtues than the "good" characters, but despite playing with these tropes and genre conventions, Wendig's work ends up mostly just being human.

So, this is a case where if I didn't know anything about Wendig from Twitter, the genre pigeonhole and back of the novel blurbs and reviews would have driven me away. I'm glad I picked it up.

I started the book in audio format, but finished in one night reading the eBook version. It definitely was a "stay up till I finish" kind of read, but it has charms that extend beyond it's pot-boiler plotting. ( )
  nnschiller | Sep 18, 2014 |
What have I to say about Miriam? I LOVE HER!! She is a A STOMP ASS, FOUL MOUTHED, ALCOHOL DRINKING, CIGARETTE SMOKING, FIRECRACKER OF A CHICK WITH DEATH DOGGING HER EVERY STEP!!! Haha, now not that those are especially iconic characteristics to have as a person. But hey, sometimes the good guys aren’t always “good” right?

I don’t feel the blurb on Blackbirds is completely accurate after having read the book. Though it and the cover definitely were what drew me into reading it. Let me just say instead: Yes, she can see how someone is going to die simply by having skin on skin contact with you. A touch of the fingertip, graze of a bare shoulder, bump of a bit of uglies *cackles madly* and there she has it – in what is likely 2 seconds or less she will have witnessed in her mind’s eye all the gritty details of your death. Down to the minute of your demise!

How was the blurb misleading? It stated that she would be the next victim to die – and she couldn’t very well know that because her own death is the one death that Miriam cannot see. Obviously, she is a troubled young woman. 8 years ago she gained the ability to see how others were going to meet their end. At first she thought she could try to prevent these deaths from happening, but repeated attempts have left her jaded and to put it frankly quite a bit mentally unhinged.

Nowadays, she is a vagabond roamer – traveling around the country, strategically placing herself at these scenes of death she has previously witnessed in her visions. Why would she do this? Because she robs the bodies of the newly deceased of course! Just so she can keep moving forward, keep food and alcohol in her belly, and cigarettes on her lips to get through another day. All the while continuing to fill the pages in what is essentially her diary of death.

All of this sounds very morbid and depressing doesn’t it? BUT WAIT! That couldn’t be further from the truth. Yes, there are some gruesome parts in Blackbirds, but boy oh boy, was I laughing my ass off at some parts. Miriam is a queen of snark. It’s like she has some cutting thing to say back to everyone and often these things will just make you guffaw out loud. She’s a roadside trash type of girl, but you can also see the faded painted picture of a wonderful person underneath all of the scum she’s piled on top of herself.

Wendig has an amazing way with making each character really come alive. Each had their own distinctive voice in my mind and I felt connected to each one of them! Usually, I find secondary character building to be lacking in the books I’ve read lately but these characters were all so well built up. Even one guy that didn’t seem to get as much ‘background info time,’ I felt was well done because you’re really supposed to feel like he’s a lame sidekick and just by his personality alone and the things he says and the way he’s treated that is exactly how I walked away feeling about him.

The only questionable thing about Blackbirds to me was how she ended up getting this power. She does go into explaining it somewhat but then I feel like the explanation kind of jumps the train a little and you are supposed to pick up the rest from her so many visions/nightmares/flashbacks. Mostly these happen when she’s asleep – and during her dreams you can’t tell if that’s something that really did happen to her in the past or if it’s her mind warping it into something else. Now in the visions she sees of someone’s death, those are clear and crisp without any confusion as to how they are going to die. Because of this I know I’ll likely do a reread before the next book comes out. It’s probably my own fault for not catching it since I was eating every word on the page so fast.

This is a must read for fans of paranormal books on the much darker and grittier side of things. I was hooked a few short pages in and could barely put Blackbirds down until I was finished. Talk about sending my eyes into eye-bleed mode. Miriam is a strong, but “dirty” character, so keep an open mind going in. If you are OK with a lot of cussing, very graphic death scenes, and a wee bit of sex, oh yes and blood, let’s not forget all the blood, then you will definitely love this book. For me that is an awesome mix, because I love serial killer, horror, thriller, grip me by the seat of my pants sort of stuff because I’d rather read it than watch it. But I know that this definitely won’t be for everyone. If you’re a reader that say - likes mostly Young Adult fiction and for it to be kept on the cleaner side, then Blackbirds might not be your cup of tea. I say give it a try anyway because you never know you might just find you’ll love it.

Tabitha the Pabkins
posted on www.myshelfconfessions.com ( )
  Pabkins | Jun 24, 2014 |
Profanity. Sex. Violence. This is the depravity a reader must enjoy in order to appreciate Chuck Wendig's Blackbirds (Angry Robot, 2012).

I loved it.

Miriam Black is like that creepy kid from The Sixth Sense if he were older and more inclined to dropping the f-bomb. Miriam is more macabre, too: Instead of seeing dead people, she sees how they die. The merest touch imparts to Miriam knowledge not only of how a person dies, but also when, information that comes in handy to a drifter living by the seat of her pants. (Think scavenger.)

Blackbirds opens with Miriam moving from one encounter to the next, a glutted vulture seeking out her next meal. She's picked up by Louis, a kindly truck driver, after she encounters two rednecks. (Whom Miriam roundly beats. Thanks, Louis, but she don't need no man.) Miriam accidentally touches Louis and receives a vision of his death in which he appears to be calling her name and looking at her over the shoulder of his murderer. Thus Wendig sets Blackbirds' story in motion.

If its premise is straightforward--urban fantasy chick with special powers gets into trouble--Blackbirds is anything but simple. In a postscript interview with Adam Christopher, Wendig admits that Blackbirds went through seven or eight drafts, including from a book manuscript to a film script and back again. (The visual style of the book is indicative of its time as a script.) And it shows. There is nothing rough or extraneous about Blackbirds. Wendig distilled the story down to its essence, and then sprinkled it liberally with profanity.

The care Wendig put into telling this story shows. His prose is whip-smart, each sentence a revelation in its own way, whether it's creative vulgarity or unexpected observations, for instance, the "chemical stink" of Philadelphia (a smell this reader knows all too well). Each sentence builds upon the last, lending the story a propulsive feel. Readers will find themselves impatient to know what happens next. Blackbirds is the definition of a "page turner."

Wendig's prose is punchy, conversational. (If he speaks in any way resembling his writing voice, I would love to have a beer with him.) His dialog is natural; readers will recognize the rhythms of characters' speech. If there is an exception, it might be Miriam herself, whose incessant patter sometimes reads as forced, or, perhaps, too clever, almost as if she's a Gilmore Girl gone to seed. Still, Miriam's dialog is in character. She isn't stupid, and the endless string of wisecracks, vulgarity, and observations speak to her nervous energy, a trait indicated, too, by her chain smoking, drinking, and, ultimately, rootless lifestyle.

Wendig is at his best (and that is saying something) when it comes to characterization. Miriam is a compelling and charismatic protagonist, of course, but it's with the characters that revolve around her that Wendig really shines. Wendig can summon up a sense of character with just one or two sentences. Consider Ashley Gaynes, a conman whose whole being is summed up in his shit-eating grin. Or Frankie and Harriet, a pair of odd couple cutthroats who make small talk about crazy old cat women. Their reactions to a story about a particular cat woman, something told almost in passing, points to their very natures.

Readers should be warmed: This is not a PG book. You will have by now noted that I've mentioned profanity several times, and there is a lot of it. If you don't crack a smile at creative cursing, if you find such language tasteless, Blackbirds isn't for you. Blackbirds is violent, too, practically from the first page, and it is graphic. I wrinkled my nose a few times, and I'm not squeamish; indeed, I like my stories bloody. Readers with weak stomachs should consider themselves warned.

Those concerns aside--and I don't consider them my concerns--Blackbirds is a wonderful book. The story is well plotted, the characters, even the minor ones, fully drawn, and Wendig's prose is outstanding. A sense of "writer's craft" permeates the entire book. A dark urban fantasy, Blackbirds will be best enjoyed by readers who like their fantasy to have elements of mysteries and thrillers, and for fans of the quirky and offbeat. Highly recommended. ( )
  LancasterWays | Jun 18, 2014 |
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Car lights strobe through busted motel blinds.
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When Miriam Black touches you, she can see how and when you’re going to die. This gives her the chance, in theory, to solve murders before they happen – but she discovers that fate is far more unyielding than suspected, and she soon grows to believe she cannot change the deaths she sees. She learns differently, over time, and learns that the sacrifices necessary to turn fate on its ear are bigger than expected. In the meantime, she exists as a kind of human vulture: instead of attempting to sway fate’s course she steps into it’s path, becoming a carrion bird (figuratively) who lurks at the deaths she knows are coming to steal from the dead. [Author's words from interview on Andrew Jack Writing Blog]
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Miriam Black knows when you will die. She's foreseen hundreds of car crashes, heart attacks, strokes and suicides. But when Miriam hitches a ride with Louis Darling and shakes his hand, she sees that in thirty days Louis will be murdered while he calls her name.… (more)

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