Book Review – ‘Blackbirds’ by Chuck Wendig
It’s an awesome jacket. Seriously, just look at that
Firstly this one is kind of embarrassing for me. I’ve been running this blog for about twelve months now and this is the first time I’ve actually just reviewed a book. Not an adaptation, not a book and a film but just a book. Normally I wouldn’t do this – I like having a blog that fits a specific niche and a strict focus as it means that this blog can talk about things that maybe don’t get talked about elsewhere. However, this is a special case and I hope you’ll allow me to bend the rules a little here.
I’ve said before repeatedly actually that the internet is a great place. It allows artists and creative to distribute their art. It allows people to question and learn from people who have found success and it allows people to offer advice and criticism on things that others put out into pop culture. You only have to look at the popularity at sites like channel awesome and an explosion in ebook publishing to see how people both love advice and love criticism too. I’m optimistic about this because it forces those who offer advice and critique to be willing to put their artistic money where their mouth is. So, let’s talk about Chuch Wendig.
I first became aware of Chuck thanks to Twitter and his own blog terribleminds.com where he dispenses some incredibly foul mouthed writing advice. He’s also the author of the following
– 500 ways to be a Better Writer
– 500 more ways to be a Better Writer
– 250 things you should know about writing
– 500 ways to tell a better story
And when I saw that he published fiction too, I’ll admit there was a thought that crept in from the ugly little lizard part of my brain, ‘Oh yeah? You had better be good at this, or I’ll tear you a new one’
So I bought Blackbirds, ready to roll up my sleeves and give It a good critical beat-down. And then I read it. I read it in one sitting, devouring it like nothing I’ve read lately. And I’m in the middle of a degree where I have to read all the time.
Let’s cut to the chase. It’s good. In fact, it might just be great and you all need to go read his blog, follow him on Twitter and go and by his books. But before you all do that I should probably explain a few things. So, firstly a rundown of the set-up – Miriam Black is a young, rootless woman who spends her time hitching rides around the highways and by-ways of America. She has the unique ability that any time she makes skin on skin contact with someone she sees how they are going to die. After meeting a trucker she sees that he’s going to die in 30 days, tortured to death and calling her name. There, we begin.
I’m not going to give away any more about the plot because that would be unfair because it’s something I shouldn’t spoil. Wendig writes like a man possessed – his narrative style is like a bull in a china shop, a big rampaging tornado of profanity, blood, sweat and tears that makes Miriam an incredibly compelling character to be with. As an anti-hero Miriam in less skilled hands would be clichéd, flat and irritatingly passive but here the writer is skilled enough to make her vulnerable, violent and philosophical. It’s a hard thing to pull of the mix of philosophy, violence and fragility but Wendig manages it better than anyone, (perhaps Glen Duncan’s The Last Werewolf comes closest in terms of similarity) With his narrator it’s like Chuck met Carrie White after she left home and spent a few years drinking whiskey from the bottle whilst getting into bar fights together.
Technically and structurally Wendig proves that he more than knows what he’s doing. The book is meticulously planned so that not a single sentence is superfluous and the narrative is a lean mean fighting machine. Everything is characterising, every action is consistent and everything is about driving the plot forward.
For those seeking slow languid writing, this isn’t for you. This is narrative, served black, strong and straight up. It won’t be for everybody but for those who are looking for a shotgun blast of narrative that has brains, a heart and a liberal sprinkling of profanity you need to get this guy’s books.
As someone who is studying Gothic fiction, there is something really cheering to see in what Wendig is doing. Blackbirds is defined on its jacket as urban fantasy, which to be honest is a slightly unhelpful genre description. There are elements of the fantastic here but the dark, moody and viscerally violent tone makes it much closer to a modern Gothic horror and thriller.
Of course he writes Gothic horror. I mean…it’s obvious
It isn’t a perfect book – the unabashedly hyper narration slips just occasionally into something I struggled to take seriously and the whole thing is a little rough around the edges. That works though, as it feels like a book that was written honestly – not by someone who had researched his markets and target demographics, but someone who had a story that he had to get out.
It’s raw, honest uncompromising storytelling. Get it.