Friday, December 28, 2012

Mockingbird (Miriam Black #2), By Chuck Wendig

Miriam Black has been stricken with the ability to see the death of anyone she touches, but can she act and change one’s fate? Should she? This is the premise of Mockingbird (Miriam Black #2) by Chuck Wendig, the sequel to Blackbirds, and a novel which I thoroughly enjoyed and highly recommend. It past all my litmus tests:  Do I grab the kindle before I go to the bathroom? Check. Do I wish I could stay up later to read it? Check.  Do I think of the novel well after it is over? Check. 

The implications of being able to touch someone and have a flash vision of their death is used with great creativity in the novel.  You learn how someone lived by seeing them die; how long they have to live, who may be in their life, was their death by natural causes, murder, disease? All sorts of implications that the main character uses either to her advantage, or as a call for action. 

With bizarre powers comes even more bizarre responsibilities, and Miriam has to decide if she should intervene using this insight and power to battle foes along the way.  And with each emotionally and physically draining reading, there’s a psychological imprint on Miriam. 

Miriam Black is brought to life with clever, smirk-inducing, personality revealing, and never trite dialogue.  She’s a wild mix of feminine strength and fragility, and has this hardened yet charming shell.  Think Lisbeth Salander but not as introverted

The closest person to her that may be considered a boyfriend is Louis who is kept at arm's length. They enjoy a chaotic yet clearly connected relationship, and he seems the only man with the mixture of toughness and tenderness that she can get close to.  Add to this the supernatural mystical presence of the blackbirds and swallows which soar above the story and are sprinkled on top in just the right amounts to not take away from the tangible, concrete elements of the plot, it’s easy to get pulled into the world of Miriam Black.

In writing a review of one of Chuck Wendigs' books, there’s this pressure to come up with clever cool phrases to match his unique, edgy wit. This is an impossible challenge since I would gladly pick up the paragraphs off of his cutting room floor that have been edited out and use them as my own. Bamn, writing skills improved.

At times, however, I felt I could hear his own voice speaking rather than Miriam, during the “oh my gosh a woman said that in those circumstances” dialogue.  Like a quarterback in love with his arm, or a pitcher in love with his fastball, the author seemed to be flexing his writing muscles as much as speaking as Miriam.

But hey, why not? And this did not happen enough to pull from the enjoyment, (but enough that I thought of to write it now).  As a reader I largely reveled in hearing Miriam think and speak, and certainly act.  She pushes the conflict, always acting against the forces when the urge would be to let it go, walk away; I’ve done enough to help here.

The writing is sharp and hums along at stealth speed.  The plot starts at a high point of a roller coaster ride, and continues to climb.  Action reveals character in a cool-as-all-hell opening scene, and this is just the first of a series of moments. If the book were a movie, there would be no pee breaks, since great scenes happen one after another.  The main conflict of the plot happens after Miriam visits a school for troubled girls, and finds they are at risk for some horrific consequences if she doesn’t act, and the staff of the school isn’t especially happy to see her. Touching one of the students hands reveals a gruesome, ritualistic murder. The pressure builds, clues are uncovered, and if my Kindle didn’t read 60%, I might have thought I was at the climax of a typical, pretty good novel during a very, cool 'bad guy is beaten' scene.  Ah, but there's more, and then you realize that the stakes have just gotten bigger and there’s a higher, more climactic and steep peak to climb. There’s a great payoff in this, characters are more than they seem, and the ride gets crazier until the tires are all blown out.

Yes, I’m tap-dancing around spoilers, but Mockingbird is big on action, with a kick-ass character and an incredible read.

Mark Matthews,
Author of Stray and The Jade Rabbit

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