Mockingbird by Chuck Wendig – review

by Chuck Wendig

Publisher: Angry Robot Books

UK ISBN 9780857662323

US ISBN 9780857662330

ePub ISBN 9780857662347

Mockingbird is Wendig’s second novel from Angry Robot Books and the sequel to Blackbirds (which I reviewed here.)

Mockingbird picks up a year or so after the events of Blackbirds, with Miriam and Louis in some kind of stable situation. But this is Miriam Black, so we know that’s not going to last. Louis sets Miriam up with a job using her special power to see how people are going to die. A friend of his works at a school for troubled girls and wants to know if her suspicions of terminal illness are well-founded or not. Miriam reluctantly agrees to use her powers for good.

While at the school she touches a young student, a troubled teen called Lauren, and sees her suffer a hideous death, aged eighteen, at the hands of a particularly nasty serial killer. This leads Miriam to investigate further and she begins to uncover a lot of horror, murder and mayhem,  dragging her through several twists, reversals and life-threatening scenarios.

Once again, Wendig showcases his excellent writing skills, with tight powerful prose, locked into the voice of his characters like a tick to exposed skin. The character of Miriam definitely grows in this book – she’s explored more deeply, we discover more about her background and what has led her to be the way she is. She also begins to realise what she is to become, where her own destiny lays.

The irreverence and black humour are still well in evidence and this book is definitely darker than Blackbirds. Horrible people do horrible things, but there’s also a deeper, more pervasive dread throughout this book that Wendig handles with far greater skill than the last one. The development of the supernatural aspects of Miriam’s life and talents was particularly well done, and greatly interesting to me. And there’s still more to learn, so it seems likely that we’ll be getting more instalments. At least, I hope we do.

The story this time around is a lot more complicated than Blackbirds, but complicated in a good way. Mockingbird is a longer book than Blackbirds, but it still rocks along with that addictive pace Wendig maintains so well. It’s twistier than a dark mountain road and characters play a variety of roles. Miriam is in the thick of it all the time and kicks butt and takes names throughout. In fact, she also gets her own arse thoroughly whupped on many occasions. It’s sometimes hard to suspend disbelief at just how much punishment one small woman can take at the hands of these brutal assailants, but I suppose she’s a kind of superhero, so maybe it’s okay. A foul-mouthed, smart-assed, violent, crazy, psychic, killer of a superhero, at that.

Mockingbird is a violent and powerful tale addressing fate, mortality and our duty to others. It’s funny, horrible and often quite disturbing. Which makes it a lot like life. Wendig’s characters, particularly Miriam Black, are well realised and engaging. Even Louis (who I found a bit bland in Blackbirds) is a far more interesting person this time around. Mockingbird is, in many ways, a much better read than Blackbirds.

Urban fantasy, horror and thriller all rolled into one. Delicious. Five stars.


Blackbirds by Chuck Wendig – review

Blackbirds by Chuck Wendig

Publisher: Angry Robot Books

UK – ISBN 9780857662293

US/CAN – ISBN 9780857662309

eBook – ePub ISBN 9780857662316

Blackbirds is a novel by notorious internet pottymouth, Chuck Wendig. Chuck’s online writing advice and sheer volume of bloggery is quite impressive and I was slightly dubious about wading into his actual fiction for the first time. I really wanted to like it, but wasn’t sure if I would. I needn’t have worried.

The story follows ballsy, attitude-ridden, hardass, Miriam Black, who has the power to know, from a single skin-on-skin touch, when a person will die. She’ll see in graphic detail, just once, the first time she touches a person, exactly how that person will shuffle off. She’s never wrong and she can’t change anything that happens. What she can do is make notes about the people who are going to cark it and be sure she’s nearby at the time to loot the corpse. That’s how she makes a living. Pretty dark stuff.

But when Miriam hitches a ride with Louis Darling and shakes his hand, she sees that in thirty days Louis will be murdered just as he seems to spot her behind the killer. Miriam knows from experience she can’t save him, but if she’s there as he’s murdered, she’d better try, in order to save herself if nothing else.

Wendig delivers this story like shotgun blast after shotgun blast of action and smartmouthed dialogue. The characters, for the most part, are excellent. Miriam is a very well-conceived invention, a real basketcase, and Wendig manages her well. There are occasions when she becomes something of a parody of herself, which is unfortunate, but it happens rarely. The bad guys on the trail are quite delicious, a nice set of villains, but I would have liked to see them a little more explained. A bit more about their stories would be good. We get a solid backstory on one of them, but very little on the others.

Sadly, though, I felt that Louis’s character was a bit underdone. He’s a dishrag, a walk-over, and that makes him a bit two-dimensional. He’s also incredibly forgiving, especially right near the end, but I won’t give things away here. This, however, is a small gripe.

The deaths Miriam sees are many and varied, with some truly inspired concepts delivered by Wendig. It would seem to me that there would be more mundane deaths of people simply lying unconscious in bed, then the breathing stops. Wendig shows us more variety – an old woman who falls on the ice and has a last cigarette while hypothermia takes her away, for example, or a woman who narrowly avoids crashing her car only to be wiped out by a speeding truck. It’s terribly black and grim, but it is highly entertaining stuff. Wendig’s humour suffuses everything and he collects absurdity and indignity along with very real thoughts on life and existence.

I consumed this book in two short sittings. The writing is simply top-notch, fast and clever and real. Wendig is a master of the metaphor and simile, with some truly great lines in this that’ll keep coming back to you. On a couple of occasions he used the same metaphor twice and that’s a shame, because that always kills a great turn of phrase, but this book is littered with them, so we can forgive him.

I thoroughly enjoyed every page of this book. Dark, thoroughly gory in places, but also thoughtful and complete. The only thing missing was the end of Miriam’s story about her genesis and that really bugs me. I can only assume we’ll learn more in future books. (Or it’s entirely possible I missed it!) Mockingbird is the sequel, and that’s out now, so I’ll be sure to read it soon.

Blackbirds is the kind of book that draws out all those old, cliched pulp adjectives – noirish, raw, gritty, bold, hard-boiled, visceral. It deserves all those medals. This is punchy, powerful, high-octane stuff built around great humour and sardonic observations of life. Balls-out, razor-sharp storytelling – I thoroughly recommend it.


Vaudeville by Greg Chapman – review

“Vaudeville” by Greg Chapman.

Publisher: Dark Prints Press

eISBN: 9780987197641

“Vaudeville” by Greg Chapman is an e-novella published by Dark Prints Press. It’s the story of Anthony Moore, whose father committed suicide by hanging himself from a tree and no one really understands why. He was a great guy, loved by all, and the death is a mystery that has rocked the small town of Keaton and left Anthony and his mother broken and at odds with each other. Anthony’s mother drinks the pain away and Anthony is himself lost and friendless, searching for direction. Every day he goes into the woods, to stand and stare at the tree where his father hanged himself, and wonder why. And then, one day, four strange troubadours emerge from the trees, at once fascinating and frightening, and Anthony’s life takes a dramatic turn. “The All-American Travelling Troubadours” have a dark story to perform – all they need is an audience of four young souls.

The scene-setting, character development and story in this novella start well. We’re introduced to a situation that is both familiar enough to identify with and strange enough to keep us wondering what might be going on. Chapman often uses some choice turns of phrase and carries the story well, but for me there are places where the writing falls a bit flatter and has something of a first draft feel about it.

I was carried along well, however, and wanted to know what was behind the strange events. The Troubadours themselves are truly grim characters, quite nasty and well-conceived. As the story played out it was satisfying in places, but there some parts that left me a little confused. The connections between the Troubadours, Anthony’s father and the Civil War sargeant, for example, didn’t come too clear to me.

There are no great suprises in the story. As it unfolds you can see where it’s heading, but for the most part, Chapman does a good job in the telling. I think the whole thing could have used another one or two editorial passes to tighten it all up, trim some of the extraneous parts and smooth out some of the story. The ending was a bit trite and I really wish the story had stopped before the very final line. But of course, as with all reviewing, so much of this is subject to taste.

This is a straight-up horror story with some great supernatural Vaudevillian villains, and worth a look if that concept floats your boat. I’m also very glad to see publishers like Dark Prints Press embracing e-publication to bring us more novella-length fiction, so let’s see more of that, please!




Episodes of The Walking Dead Season 3 will be available to purchase on iTunes from 17 October 2012. The highly anticipated third season will premiere on Australian subscription television on 16 October, a mere 33 hours after the initial US broadcast. The episodes will be available on iTunes the following day, making Australia one of the first territories in the world to view new episodes.

Season 3 will consist of 16 episodes, the longest season of The Walking Dead yet. It will air in two parts, 8 episodes will be released weekly from 17 October, with a break over Christmas (occurring worldwide) and recommencing mid-February for the remaining 8 episodes (confirmation of February dates to be advised).

Season two broke ratings records history in the US, drawing in a total of 9 million viewers for the midseason premiere. Season 3 promises to deliver the same nail-biting tension with the introduction of a new group of survivors and a new antagonist, ‘The Governor’ – a lawman who like Rick plays by his own set of rules. However, with a vastly different moral code.