It’s hard to find a well-written female character, especially when the author is a man. They’re usually these comic book amalgamations, all unnaturally curved with little personality. Sometimes they have the flexibility and fight of Kate Beckinsale’s Selene from the Underworld film series, but have the flat and wounded allure of milk left out over night. Or they’re callow victims of womanhood, waiting to be saved by some musclebound lothario with perfectly coiffed hair. Women are usually less a character and more of a plot device used as a protagonist’s motivation.
Chuck Wendig’s Blackbirds stars Miriam Black, a psychic transient, able to see the death of anyone she touches. We first find her in a motel room waiting for her next victim to die of a powerful seizure. To be clear, she doesn’t cause the seizure; Miriam isn’t a murderer. She’s more of a self-described vulture, scavenging the contents of deceased people’s wallets, so she can keep moving, stay fed, clothed, and under a roof. Of course, things go awry. Con artists and assassins circle the vulture in Miriam Black, waiting to dig their claws in her so they can use her power for their own gain.
While the premise is fascinating, Wendig’s Black shines like a refurbished lighthouse. She’s beautifully trashy, damaged, and runs the emotional gamut. She feels everything like any human being would, living in turmoil, but it doesn’t cripple her like some little, fragile doll. She’s a strong willful woman doing what she has to so she can survive, armed with the mouth of a sailor, a life full of baggage, and the motto, “It is what it is.” Miriam is a fictional character as real as anyone else you have ever met, battling with her very real demons, and the idea of fate.
Blackbirds is equal parts gritty drama, dangerous action, and dark comedy. The pacing is steady with no discernible lag. Every page moves the story, making the three-hundred-plus-page novel a fast and entertaining read. The story does come to a distinct conclusion, but there’s definitely room for more, which is great because as it turns out, Blackbirds is the first of a series. Mockingbird has already been published and The Cormorant is being published tomorrow. It is also rumored that there will be more after tomorrow’s release (Thunderbird?), which is very exciting, because Miriam Black is one of those characters that stay with you.