Book Review: Blackbirds

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Review: Blackbirds / Author: Chuck Wendig / Publisher: Angry Robot / Release Date: 3rd May

Chuck Wendig has a reputation for being insightful, foul mouthed and as American as long dusty roads, apple pie and presidential aassassinations, so it comes as no surprise that his latest novel Blackbirds is clever, vile and firmly set in the heartlands of the USA.

Blackbirds follows the fate of Miriam Black, a self-destructive young woman cursed to have visions of the death of anyone she touches. The constant reminder of mortality means that the main protagonist in more than a little bit broken inside, and this makes for an extremely compelling central character. The central conceit also permits Wendig to fill the novel with all sorts of grisly deaths, and this isn't a book for the squeamish. Each vision underlines the inherent tragedy of the protagonist; giving us a tale that is grim, gritty and filled with gory thrills. This is a horror novel with a hefty dose of crime drama. Blackbirds is also filled with some of the most glorious profanity, the pages practically turning blue with creative and amusing uses of swear words. It’s a blood soaked, filth driven roller coaster, and surprisingly compelling.

The main plot is a moderately pedestrian crime story; however, Wendig has filled the world with colourful characters, and it is these people that carry the story forward.  Each character (including the main protagonist) is quite extreme and broadly drawn. Rather than detracting from the overall story though, it adds strongly to; Blackbirds is about the inevitably of death, and even those who are larger than life eventually die.

The backdrop is a USA composed of long roads, truck stops, ignorance and fists. It takes an utterly unromantic view of the nation, and contrasts sharply with the understated supernatural elements of the tale to great effect. Unlike the characters, the world that Blackbirds is set in is all too real.

This is not a tale about the purity of the human spirit, or the inherent kindness that lies in the heart of man; Wendig's world is one where anything good quickly gets stamped into the dirt and people are resigned to accept their fate. Ultimately it’s a tale of self-determinations and self-realisation.

Wendig has taken the American roadside story and turned it into a tale supernatural terror. Fans of movies such as True Romance and Final Destination will find a lot to like here, and this is a treat for those of us who like their horror vampire-free and swear-word heavy.

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