Please note Mockingbird is a direct sequel to Blackbirds and due to that fact it’s entirely possible this review may contain minor spoilers. Consider yourself warned, people.
Miriam Black has a terrible talent.
The first time she touches someone, she will see the moment of their death. Still in her early twenties, she’s foreseen hundreds of car crashes, heart attacks, strokes, suicides, and slow deaths by cancer. It is all she can do to keep her talent – her curse – in check.
But when Miriam touches a woman while standing in line at the supermarket, she foresees that the woman will be violently killed - right here, right now.
Earlier this year I read and reviewed Blackbirds by Chuck Wendig and if I’m being honest I have to admit that it did blow my tiny little mind just a bit. Like a David Lynch directed version of The Littlest Hobo (if the Hobo was a young women with supernatural powers rather than a dog) I really enjoyed this dark, nightmarish tale. When I heard there was another novel featuring the same character, I was keen to give it a whirl.
Once again I found myself amazed at how quickly I was hooked. Damn your black heart, Wendig! Miriam continues to be delightfully antagonistic with everyone that she meets. With a mouth on her like a longshoreman and a tough as nails exterior it’s difficult not to immediately full in love with her. Her shocking language and her pragmatic approach to life are just so much fun. The phrase ‘brutally honest’ may well have been invented with Miriam in mind. For all her foul mouthed bluster though, Miriam does actually care. Somewhere, way WAY deep down, there is a good person who does want to try and help people. The help she provides might be a little unconventional at times but she does try.
What of the plot then? Serial killings, a private girl’s school and a ballsy heroine with more attitude than you can shake a wide variety of sticks at. I ask you what’s not to love? Wendig is the sneakiest of authors. On the face of it Mockingbird is a straight forward urban fantasy but delve deeper and it’s actually so much more than that. The narrative deftly explores themes like revenge and the nature of redemption while still managing to be entertaining but never preachy. In this novel Miriam is forced to confront some harsh truths about the power she lives with. During Miriam’s continuing journey she has to try and learn how to live with what she knows. She also has to try and learn how to exist with others in her life rather than trying to shut the entire outside world out. I love the fact that the reader is privy to the thoughts going on in her head. It is so much easier to empathize with a protagonist when motivations are clear. There is a genuine sense that Miriam’s character is evolving as the plot unfolds. The Miriam the reader meets on page one of Blackbirds is most definitely not the same Miriam on the final page of Mockingbird.
Some may find Mockingbird too much. There is no denying that at times things get pretty extreme, but personally I found it pitched just right. I’ve read other authors in the recent past who have attempted to write in a similarly graphic style and I have found their work unpalatable. I never felt that way while reading this novel. Wendig knows exactly when to shock and when to leave your imagination to fill in the blanks.
I don’t often bring up the topic of book covers but once again I feel compelled to mention the truly striking covert art created by Joey Hi-Fi. A complex portrait of Miriam that uses basic black and white with just a splash of red to very effectively capture the spirit and tone of the entire novel. It’s the sort of thing I could see myself getting framed and hanging on a wall. Actually, if anyone at Angry Robot reads this review I’ve said before that you guys know good cover art, how about creating some posters?
In conclusion, I will offer these following words of warning. I think we may have to start collectively fearing this author. I mean, I can only assume that Mr Wendig has made some sort of Faustian deal with the Dark Gods. Perhaps his books, and their addictive crack-like quality, are only the first step in some far more diabolical scheme? It appears that the dark side doesn’t only offer cookies, they also have Chuck Wendig. Mockingbird is a darker-than-dark adult flavored urban fantasy that will mess with your head in the best of ways. Seek it out now (or after reading Blackbirds if you haven’t already done that).
Mockingbird is published by Angry Robot and is available in the US already and in the UK from the 6th September 2012. Miriam Black will return in Cormorant which is due in 2013.