Author: Chuck Wendig
Publication Date: 4/24/12
Publisher: Angry Robot
Blurb: 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. Louis will die because he met her, and she will be the next victim.
No matter what she does she can’t save Louis. But if she wants to stay alive, she’ll have to try.
There have been a few conversations on Goodreads lately concerning the dangers of labeling and categorizing books, especially books written by women and especially calling them chick-lit or dystopian romance. Many eloquently and convincingly argued that giving fiction written by women these labels is dangerous and detrimental because it dismisses these books and alienates its potential male readers. On a logical level, I do understand these people's concerns, but personally, I don't feel like women are being underrepresented in publishing. Most of the books I read are written by women, most of my favorite authors are women, so it is hard for me to relate and lament the fact that if some book is called a romance, then we, people who label it so, take away the author's livelihood and stop men from reading it. I suppose, men are generally disinterested in books dedicated to "women's issues," but must it always have something to do with sexism and ten kinds of malice? Where am I going with this? Well, I just want to make a point that some books genuinely do not work for us, because they are written by an author of the opposite sex, no sexism needs to come into play. This is the case with Blackbirds, a book, which, I believe, I would have liked more if it didn't have so much dude in it.
Blackbirds has all the elements of an excellent urban fantasy novel. And it would have been one, if it were written by Stacia Kane, for example. The book's main character, Miriam, has an ability to know how a person will die by having a skin-to-skin contact with him or her (this reminds me of some other books with similar powers, maybe Harper Connelly series by Charlaine Harris?). She uses this ability to take advantage of the dying people, normally by following them close to their death moment and cleaning out their wallets. Miriam seems to be unable to change the course of people's lives and postpone anyone's death, so she carries on knowing everyone's last moments, but not doing anything about it. That is until she meets a long-distance truck driver Louis who is nice to her and who she knows will die in a gruesome way a couple of weeks after meeting Miriam and with Miriam's name on his lips.
The plot unfolds roughly as you would expect any urban fantasy (series) to unfold. There is a romantic entanglement (or two), some drugs, some sex (not sexy), a mystery, and lots and lots of violence and gore. I would have totally been down for this plot, if not for a few things.
Wendig writes from Miriam's POV (3rd person). And I have the same problems with his woman's voice that I have with all the YA novels written by female writers from POV's of young lads who sound like middle-aged women. It's just not believable. Miriam's narrative is peppered with the amount of dick and dick-related tangents and jokes that are characteristic of only male-written books. (Sorry, guys, we are just not that preoccupied with your members.) And, in general, I found Miriam's voice too labored for my taste. Too much strained wit, even in the most inopportune and life-threatening moments, is not something I enjoy.
The other thing that turned me off about this novel is the bare, cinematic quality of it. Sometimes you come across books that just have no "meat." Wendig has the plot down, the dialog is OK, but his characters appear to be operating in a vacuum. There is no sense of place, no atmosphere, little to no emotion, but mostly events and conversations happening one after another.
And the last thing that I never in a million years thought I would complain about. There is way too much gore and nastiness in this book. It is often gratuitous and too gross, which is especially jarring when not balanced with depth and emotion and solid motivations. You have blood galore, cut-off body parts, eye boogers, bodies ground in a garbage disposal. Not to mention the term "blumpy" I learned which I now desire to erase from my mind forever (google it at your own risk). A lot of this was an overkill and not fully justified by the novel's plot.
My advice about Blackbirds? Skip it, unless you are a dude or have a taste for gross, and read Zoo City instead.