Miriam Black has a unique and unwanted talent; with one glancing touch of skin on skin she can tell exactly when and how someone is going to die. Heart attacks, auto accidents, murders, peaceful passings in old age, she’s seen them all.
Initially Miriam tried to intervene when she saw a death that looked like it could be prevented. Except every time she tried her actions seemed to end up being what actually brought about the death as foreseen. So Miriam’s given up trying to derail the death train, deciding instead to ride it.
Now when she encounters someone who will be dying in the not too distant future – usually suddenly or violently, and always alone – she makes a point of being present at the time of death so she can help herself to whatever cash/credit cards the person has on hand when they shuffle off this mortal coil. It’s not the most pleasant way to make a living but, quite frankly, Miriam just doesn’t care anymore.
Or so she thought. Then she meets Louis, a gentle giant of a trucker whose death Miriam not only foresees but, to her horror, seems to play a part in. Complicating matters is a young con man named Ashley who figures out Miriam’s talent/scam and wants a cut, starting with Louis. Fate being the brutal bitch she is, it turns out Ashley’s on the run from some very nasty people, people who now have Miriam in their sights as well.
As painted by the skilled hand of author Chuck Wendig, Miriam Black’s world initially appears to be just that; black. And there’s no question both she and the people she encounters live a fairly bleak existence on the fringe of society. The drifters and truckers and traveling salesmen Miriam interacts with are people who move from one dreary motel to the next, dining in one anonymous greasy spoon after another, never forming any serious connection to other people. Wendig’s depiction of that life is unrelentingly stark, and it’s easy to see how that atmosphere combined with her unwanted ability has turned Miriam into an opportunistic, sarcastic, foul-mouthed, Nihilist.
But for an author arguably best known for his raging irreverence and copious and creative use of profanity, I’ll be damned if just under the snarky, simmering, supernatural surface of Blackbirds Wendig hasn’t gone and pulled a fast one on us. Amidst all the nastiness and noir, Wendig has slyly interwoven the story of a young woman dealing with loss – of innocence, of faith, of hope, of trust – and struggling with the crushing and seemingly unyielding force that is fate. Quite simply, this book has heart. And given that at its core Blackbirds is an exploration of the age-old question of fate vs freewill, it also has soul. Indeed, Blackbirds is a triumphant and tantalizing first step in an exciting new series, one which promises to take both readers and Miriam on a journey as enlightening as it is entertaining.
Not bad for a profane penmonkey, Chuck, not bad at all.
Blackbirds is available from Angry Robot (ISBN: 978-0857662309).