Blackbirds is the first in a series by author Chuck Wendig. Set against a familiar backdrop of early 21st century life, the foul-mouthed Miriam Black has a gruesome gift: one touch against a person’s bare skin allows her to see how and when they will die – always in exacting detail. She travels around the southern United States, occasionally pausing to watch people die, but all is thrown into a frenzied state of unfamiliarity when she meets Louis. His death will be in a month: brutally murdered – as he calls her name.
The plot of Blackbirds grabs you from the very first chapter, and refuses to let go as you are pulled through a darkly violent world of death and fear. This is a very good thing. Wendig’s writing style pulls you in immediately through visceral descriptions, and short chapters move at such an urgent pace that you have no desire to put the book down: you want to keep reading just to find out what will happen next.
Miriam’s world is gritty, dark, and violent, from dingy truck stops and crunching gravel to the language she uses. Make no mistakes, this is not a book to be used for a child’s bedtime story. This does not take away from the story, however; the language used is a reflection of the tale itself and blends seamlessly with familiar references to cars and web sites, painting a believable picture of the world that not only Miriam but also many of her readers inhabit.
The story itself is driven by Miriam’s gift and how it relates to her life after she meets Louis. The relationships that spin off from that single point wrap around each other to meet at the climax of the action, where Miriam’s vision is tested and twisted in a way that I certainly didn’t see coming. The after-effect on the reader leaves them shaken and gasping for breath, much like after driving down a steep hill on a windy road at night: safe, but still looking around warily for the next twist.
While I am usually a fast reader, I surprised myself by burning through Blackbirds in a single day. I wasn’t in any particular hurry to finish it, but I had a hard time putting it down. Wendig’s power as an author is found in both the story and the language used to tell it. With two more books in the series, I look forward to diving back in with Miriam and her troubles as soon as I can.