Every inch of Blackbirds by Chuck Wendig screams pessimism. It lingers around the story, the characters, and even the back water towns in which it isEvery inch of Blackbirds by Chuck Wendig screams pessimism. It lingers around the story, the characters, and even the back water towns in which it is set, like a cloud of noxious cigarette smoke blown from our heroin Miriam's sin-ridden lips. And yet, despite all the darkness, despite the death and the bleak world view, there is a sliver of light that manages to squeeze through.
That's what makes Blackbirds so fantastic (and yes, it really is fantastic). It is a murky book full of death and decay, but there is always a ray of hope - usually in the form of big Louis, one of our (anti?)hero's love interests. This ray of hope keeps you reading, keeps you guessing, maybe, just maybe, it will all turn out ok in the end.
Blackbirds is funny, too. Really funny. Dark funny, grotesque funny, but always funny. That's important, because with all the gritty, nasty drama in this novel it is bordering on depressing, and depressing doesn't make for a good read. Thankfully Miriam is so brazen, so bolshy, that she manages to have you laughing out loud in even the most perilous situations.
The pace of the book is pitched just right. We race around on a mad road trip with our heroin as she bounces from one hell to another, being chased by killers, seeing the horrific fates of friends and strangers alike, but it is slowed and steadied by a series of interludes. Some of these take the form of bizarre dreams featuring ghosts with crosses of electrical tape for eyes, others fill in back story for our villains, and the best of all take the form of an interview Miriam does, presumably a while before the start of the book. They help to ground the story and give some much appreciated history.
One slight let down is the novel's main antagonist Ingersoll, or “Hairless Fucker” as Miriam calls him. He is a bit of an evil villain cliché. An emotionless, hairless businessmen, who could be from countless books and films. Thankfully his righ-hand-woman, Harriet, is much more interesting. She is dead inside, and all she lives for is causing pain and suffering to anyone and everyone. Plus, her interlude that explains how she became who she is is fantastically gory.
The concept of Blackbirds is simple: Miriam Black knows when you are going to die.
Still in her early twenties, she's foreseen hundreds of car crashes, heart attacks, strokes, suicides, and slow deaths by cancer. But when Miriam hitches a ride with truck driver Louis Darling and shakes his hand, she sees that in thirty days Louis will be gruesomely murdered while he calls her name.
Miriam has given up trying to save people; that only makes their deaths happen. But Louis will die because he met her, and she will be the next victim. No matter what she does she can't save Louis. But if she wants to stay alive, she'll have to try.
This is urban fantasy, but done in a fresh, bloody, broody, exciting and exhilarating new way. Blackbirds is one of the best books of the year so far, and a real must read.
Moon Over Soho, book two in the Rivers of London series by Ben Aaronovitch, is an urban fantasy crime novel that is fast-paced, funny, dark and whollyMoon Over Soho, book two in the Rivers of London series by Ben Aaronovitch, is an urban fantasy crime novel that is fast-paced, funny, dark and wholly British. A winning combination that makes Moon Over Soho an instant classic.
Read by Kobna Holdbrook-Smith, Moon Over Soho is a nigh-on perfect audiobook for any lover of urban fantasy or crime, or jazz for that matter. It oozes cool, from the sweet and simple intro melody at each chapter interval, to the trendy west-end setting and to the deep, strong voice of the narrator, laced with humour.
Moon Over Soho is a combination of classic crime novel structure coupled with the urban fantasy setting, but these two alone are not enough, as many a dull urban fantasy novel will attest. It is the addition of humour, the likeable and (more importantly) believable characters, and the history – whether that be that of London itself, the characters or even the history of jazz – that make for a stand-out novel. The result of this combination is one of the best books of 2011.
The second book in the series surpasses its predecessor in almost every way, from character development to pace, and begins to develop some sinister story arcs that are sure to please any lover of a good series, including the possibility of a network of dangerous and “ethically-challenged” magicians...
Whether you read it or listen, it is a brilliant book and the next one in the series, Whispers Under Ground, cannot come soon enough.
At the heart of Hard Spell is a fairly obvious premise, and one that has been done almost to death over the last few years. Magic and monsters are reaAt the heart of Hard Spell is a fairly obvious premise, and one that has been done almost to death over the last few years. Magic and monsters are real and someone has to protect those who can't protect themselves. Still, there must be some life left in the genre yet, as Justin Gustainis proves with his dark and broody novel that pitches a run of the mill human cop against the forces of darkness.
OK, so “run of the mill” may be a little harsh. Our protagonist, Markowski, may be human, but he packs a punch thanks to his crucifix, stakes, holy water, 9mm Beretta with silver bullets and badge. Out magicked but never out gunned, it would seem.
I really did like Hard Spell. I started reading expecting an OK story, but one that I had read countless times before. There are aspects that are so obvious they should maybe have been left out, but Gustainis manages to make the rest seem fresh, and throws in one or two nice twists - such as the only magical good guy getting incapacitated within a couple of chapters, leaving the human cops even more out of their depths. And maybe that is what gives the book such a charm, us Brits love an underdog, and that is certainly what the human police force are in this story. Constantly out of their depths trying to solve a string of gruesome murders and having to take advice from an ancient vampire who is more than likely the killer, the likeable cast of characters never give up.
Highlights include a nice take on the magical communities “coming out” and some great scenes of Markowski getting his head kicked in. Hard Spell is an easy to read blood-fest with a heart. Lovers of good Urban Fantasy are in for a treat.