15 June 2012
Series: Yes, #1
UK Publisher: Angry Robot
UK Release date: April 2012
Kindly given by the publisher for an honest review
With a mere touch of your skin Miriam Black can tell when and how you will die. She’s seen old age take its toil, car crashes and heart attacks. Watching people’s final moments, Miriam’s gift makes her a guiding angel for death. But the burden takes a turn when she hitches a ride with truck rider Louis. Shaking his hand, she sees his imminent death and hears him call her name. Can Miriam escape the hand of fate or is she caught up in her own destiny?
As soon as you start reading Blackbirds it’s hard to deny that it’s violent and crass, overflowing with swearing, fighting, drinking and immorality. Those of a sensitive nature be warned. But if you are daring and willing enough to read, you will find a story that is unique, mesmerising and utterly compelling. Admittedly I had to skip a few gory paragraphs so as not to upset my delicate sensitivities, but even the raw violence couldn’t stop me reading.
Having never read anything like it, Wendig’s writing style is distinctive. Each word packs a punch – there isn’t any fluff or unnecessary content. Likewise, the change between present and past give us insight into the different characters without breaking up the pace and flow.
As the female protagonist, Miriam is definitely unique and quite a character. Flitting from town to town, hitching rides and never settling down, she isn’t necessarily a character I can easily relate to. But that didn’t bother me, because I loved how different she was from me. Listening to a narrative full of swearing and anger I was enthralled by her unabashed honesty and frankness. Miriam certainly grew on me as unlikely but deserving hero.
The big question that Miriam struggles with throughout the story is whether fate can be changed. Able to see other people’s death before it happens, Miriam is faced with the decision of intervening and trying to save them or letting fate take its natural course. It can’t be an easy decision to make, every time you touch someone deciding whether you should attempt to save them from death or let the inevitable happen. And who would want to watch people die just by shaking their hand? But can fate be changed anyway? If fate decides how we die, can Miriam ever change it? The guilt of both trying and failing and doing nothing has taken its toll on Miriam; she drinks, sleeps around and gets into fights. You can feel her pain jump out of the pages, showing the vulnerability inside her tough shell.
Reading Blackbirds feels a little like your riding a rollercoaster; after tipping over that first crest you’re pulled forward with a momentum that is paralysing and a force that is unstoppable. Miriam knows she’s barrelling towards something, but she can’t grasp how she’ll get there or what will happen when she does. I was gripped with both anticipation but also uncertainty because I liked truck driver Louis. He’s a genuine and decent guy, quite a rare thing in Blackbirds, and I didn’t want someone so nice getting caught up in the horrific and ruthless dealings of Ingersoll. It’s the kind of plot where you have to close your eyes, hold on tight and hope for the best.
What I liked about the characters in Blackbirds is that they are multi-dimensional. None of them are purely good or evil. Like real life, they’re a blend of both, with good and bad parts. Even the bad guys Harriet and Ingersoll have a past and a history, a reason for who they are and why they do what they do. Seeing the other side of the coin, and the story behind people’s behaviour, is always interesting as it plays on your emotions and almost makes you feel sorry for them. Almost but most definitely not. It did make me wonder though, whether evil is born or made, nature or nurture, or in Ingersoll’s case possibly a mixture of both.
Blackbirds is a high energy, whisky-fuelled ride, that will pull you along for the journey and have you questioning whether we can change destiny. A must-read book by an author that is worth watching.