The Cormorant by Chuck Wendig – Review

TheCormorant-700pxwideThe Cormorant by Chuck Wendig

Published by Angry Robot Books

The Cormorant is the third book in Wendig’s series following the adventures of Miriam Black. Miriam is hard-talking, asskicking heroine with some serious social issues born of her ability to see how people are going to die just by making skin to skin contact with them. Her “gift” has brought her more trouble than joy and things are not getting any easier in this third instalment.

Here’s the blurb:

Miriam Black knows how you’re going to die.

All it takes is a touch — a little skin-to-skin action.

Now someone — some rich asshole from Florida — wants to pay her so he can find out how he’s going to die. But when she touches him, she receives a message sent back through time and written in blood: HELLO, MIRIAM. It’s a taunt, a warning, and the start of a dangerous and deadly game for everybody’s favorite carcinogenic psychic, Miriam Black.

So can you imagine driving a sweet 70s muscle car at high speed through an urban area? Not some sleek sports car, but a heavy, gas-guzzling muscle car that has power up the yin yang but handling it is like wrestling a bear. Imagine the feeling of tearing through shopping malls and along beaches and across busy intersections in that car (maybe a Trans Am Firebird or a Mustang convertible) the wind tearing your hair back off your head, people screaming, knuckles white on the wheel of a ride you can’t get off, but that’s okay because you’re loving the shit out of every second of it. That’s this book. It’s a good description of the writing style, the plot and the crazy protagonist herself.

I’ve reviewed the first two books already (Blackbirds here and Mockingbird here) and I really enjoyed those. But with Cormorant, Wendig has cranked the dial up to 11. His voice as a writer here is more assured and tight than ever. It’s written in third person present tense, which means it’s visceral and relentless when done right. It’s hard to do right, but Wendig pulls it off with style.

The plot is deceptively simple, but with enough twists and turns and subtle complexities to keep it riveting. The chapters are small, addictive little bastards that keep you up at night. Just one more. Oh, just one more. Oh, damn you, Wendig!

I’m gushing a bit here, but that’s because this is a bloody great book. I’m already a fan of Miriam Black and in this instalment we see more of her kickass power, but also a lot more of her vulnerabilities and weaknesses, which is refreshing. We get to see more of how her power is as much a curse as a gift. We see the effect of her abilities and her past actions spiralling away in the lives of so many other people. And it also sets up some very interesting possibilities for book 4. I really hope there’s a book 4.

This is a great example of crime cross-genreing with horror, urban fantasy and action. If you haven’t read Blackbirds and Mockingbird yet, I would not recommend going straight in with The Cormorant. You’ll miss out on a lot. But I do highly recommend reading them all, as each book is better than the last. Wendig has knocked it out of the park with this one. And by “park”, I mean the hot, sweaty land wang of Miami and by “knocked it” I mean cracked skulls clean off with severed limbs, all the while snarking about it with artful dialog. Get yourself some Miriam Black. You won’t be disappointed.


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.