Miriam Black is on her own once again after sending her truck driver boyfriend to the curb. She’s taken to periodically messing with fate by killing the killers she sees in her visions of the deaths of the people she touches. When she gets an offer on Craigslist to read someone’s future death in Florida, it comes at a time when she can’t pass it up, as a recently homeless person. She heads to Florida figuring she might also tackle the demon of her relationship with her mother. Two birds, one stone. But Florida ends up being much more than a quick job and a quick visit.
I snatch up a new Miriam Black book the first chance I get because I so love the prose style of the books (I’m uncertain if Wendig’s other books read similarly, as I haven’t read any), and I also love Miriam as a character very much (I would definitely run the other way if I spotted her on the street at night). This third entry in the series didn’t disappoint, although I periodically wondered if Miriam’s bad-assness would be sacrificed for character growth.
The urban fantasy world of Miriam Black continues to be slowly fleshed out in this book. We meet a couple more characters with supernatural abilities, not exactly Miriam’s but similar in that they function in the mind. We also start to understand what might cause such a thing to happen. And how Wendig presents this information is beautifully crafted. It is a part of the story, a wonderful example of showing not telling.
Miriam doesn’t just cause chaos and get away with it, and this book fairly clearly exists to show us that Miriam is not invincible, even if she may sometimes seem it in earlier books. She’s a tough broad with a mental gift brutally acquired, and she’s trying to figure out how to function and do the right thing in this incredibly fucked up situation where she is battling unknown forces, particularly fate.
The plot forces Miriam to confront two bad specters from her past: an ex lover and her mother. I was fine with confronting the ex lover, and how it went down made sense. I was incredibly wary of her confrontations with her mother. Her mother was established as a fundamentalist abusive ball of shit in the previous books, and I was deeply concerned that Wendig was going to try to either make it seem like it was all in Miriam’s head or offer redemption for her. And the plot does sometimes dance on the edge of doing one or the other of these. But the way Miriam reacts to her mother in their confrontations help keep it grounded and realistic that not all mothers are great people. In one confrontation she tells her mother,
Don’t act surprised that I have this cyanide cocktail in my heart. Like they say on that old dumb-ass drug commercial: I learned it by watching you. (loc 1824)
On the other hand, an awful lot of the plot revolves around Miriam saving her mother from her untimely death at the hands of a kidnapper. I just have a hard time believing, especially given the vitriol Miriam has felt for her mother this entire time, that she would actually care that much if her mother dies. I get it that Miriam might very much not want the kidnapper to get away with it, because she hates him and he’s fucking with her, but I don’t think Miriam would actually get misty-eyed at the thought of her mother’s untimely demise. It felt forced instead of being Miriam. That said, the plot does manage to stick to its guns enough that Miriam comes out of the situation still seeming like her cyanide-filled self, so I can’t fault it too much for veering that close to the edge.
I would be amiss not to mention the fact that his book establishes the fact that Miriam is bisexual. Of course, she refuses to use the term herself, and I’m fairly certain no one actually ever calls her bi. Normally a bi character refusing to call herself bi would drive me batty, but Miriam refusing labels fits 100% into her character. She doesn’t see the need to label who she fucks and other characters’ attempts to figure her out are met with disgust on her part but that’s how she feels about everything about herself. Yes, I wish more functional non-cyanide cocktail hearted characters were bi, but I also am pretty darn happy that a character I enjoy so much is bi. Plus, scenes of Miriam banging a woman were an unexpected utter delight.
The plot does a great job of being both a single book conflict and something that ultimately propels the overarching plot forward, which is exactly what one hopes for from a series book.
The writing style maintains its gritty sharpness that the series has enjoyed from the beginning. Both the narration and the conversations are a pleasure to read. Passages like those listed below are peppered throughout the book, accosting the reader with the knowledge that we are in Miriam’s world now.
Meetings are like black holes: they eat up the hours, they suck in the light, they gorge on his productivity. (loc 92)
I’m a certified bad-ass indestructible bitch. The sun tries to burn me, I’ll kick him in his fiery balls. I don’t need no stinking suntan lotion. (loc 2787)
Overall, this book brings most things readers have come to expect from a Miriam Black book. A gritty female main character with hard-hitting prose and a plot with a touch of the fantastic and grotesque. Some fans might be a bit disappointed by the direction Miriam’s relationship with her mother goes, but all readers will be pumped by the ending and eagerly anticipating the next entry. Recommended that fans of the first two books pick this one asap.
4 out of 5 stars
Miriam hasn’t touched a person and seen a new death in months. She’s settled down in Jersey with Louis, and part of the deal is no touching. But her fingers are twitching for a vision, and quickly a regular afternoon turns into a horrifying one. Still. Louis suggests a way for her to use her gift for the good. Prove to a hypochondria that she isn’t dying. But this hypochondriac happens to work at a problem girls boarding school, and when Miriam touches one of the girls, all hell breaks loose.
I was so glad to jump back into Miriam’s gritty world that is so unique in urban fantasy, although at first I was surprised by how settled down she seemed to be. Thankfully, that quickly changes, and a disturbing, rollicking plot comes into play.
What makes this series is the characterization of Miriam. She is not a nice girl. And she’s not bad in some fake-ass way designed to appeal to a hormonal teenage boy. She doesn’t run around in tight leather pants proclaiming her badness while batting her eyes and tossing her hair. Miriam is dark and brutally honest. She has a delightfully foul mouth. She wears what she wants to wear whether or not people like it or it’s in fashion. She doesn’t care if she’s attractive. She can be bitingly mean. But she still works as a heroine because she truly has a good heart and is willing to inconvenience her entire life to help other people. Reading Miriam is deeply refreshing to me, as a woman reader. She’s allowed to be precisely who she is without any restraints of gender norms by the author. Here is just a sampling of Miriam’s voice in the book:
Home Again, Home Again, Fuckity-Fuck (location 259)
A tattoo is an expression of your inner self inked on your outer self. It’s some deeply spiritual shit. (location 2143)
The plot this time at first appears to be purely about who is killing young girls, but slowly it becomes apparent that we’re learning more about Fate or what I think of as the crazy birds that control Miriam’s life. It appears that Fate is displeased that Miriam fucked with it by saving Louis, and now it’s out to get her. Although this addresses some of the issues I had in the first book about how confusing Fate is and what exactly the rules for this universe are, I must admit, I still found a lot of the information revealed to be a bit fuzzy, albeit wonderfully creepy. The fantasy information was better than in the first book, but it was still a bit too at arm’s length. I don’t want to have to wait out the whole series to finally understand even one significant aspect of what is up with Miriam.
One plot issue to do with the murders bothered me. Spoiler ahead!
*spoilers* I have a very hard time believing that after being fooled once by the killer who can imitate other people’s voices like a mockingbird that Miriam would fall for it a second time. She’s smarter than that, and it felt like a very clunky plot device to me. *end spoilers*
That said, the mystery was dark, gritty, and nail-biting. A lot happened, and Miriam’s story definitely moved forward. There is a self-contained mystery within this book, but the overarching plot got more traction as well.
The writing continues to be a mix of beautiful and grotesque that would keep me coming back even if the characterization of Miriam wasn’t so strong. Wendig’s description powers are truly stellar.
Her mouth brimming with foulness the way a soup can bulges with botulism. (location 2460)
They invited her to move back home but she’s not going to do that, oh hell no, she’d much rather snap her tits in a bear-trap than go back to that hell. (location 1633)
She gets on her tippy-toes and kisses him. Long, slow, deep. The kind of kiss where you can feel little pieces of your soul trading places as mouths open and breath mingles. (location 3722)
How can you not read a book with writing like that?
Overall, fans of the first book in the Miriam Black series will not be disappointed by this entry. Everything that made the first book unique in the urban fantasy genre has returned with strength, particularly the writing style and the characterization of Miriam. The overarching plot moves forward at a pace fast enough to maintain interest, although not enough about the rules of the fantasy world is revealed. The self-contained plot is gritty, dark, and sufficiently mysterious, although one moment detracts from it a bit. Miriam and the writing more than make up for it, though. Wendig fans will not be disappointed.
4 out of 5 stars
Miriam Black is an early 20-something drifter with bleach blonde hair and a surprising ability to hold her own in a fight. She also knows when and precisely how you’re going to die. Only if you touch her skin-on-skin though. And it’s because of this skill that Miriam became a drifter. You try dealing with seeing that every time you touch someone. But when a kind trucker gives her a lift and in her vision of his death she hears him speak her name, her entire crazy life takes an even crazier turn.
This is one of those books that is very difficult to categorize. I want to call it urban fantasy, but it doesn’t have much supernatural about it, except for the ability to see deaths. The world isn’t swimming in vampires or werewolves of goblins. I also want to call it a thriller what with the whole try to stop the trucker from dying bit but it’s so much more than chills and whodunit (or in this case, who will do it). Its dark, gritty style reminds me of Palahniuk, so I suppose what might come the closest would be a Palahniuk-esque urban fantasy lite thriller. What I think sums it up best, though, is a quote from Miriam herself:
It starts with my mother….Boys get fucked up by their fathers, right? That’s why so many tales are really Daddy Issue stories at their core, because men run the world, and men get to tell their stories first. If women told most of the stories, though, then all the best stories would be about Mommy Problems. (location 1656)
So, yes, it is all of those things, but it’s also a Mommy Problems story, and that is just a really nice change of pace. Mommy Problems wrapped in violence and questioning of fate.
The tone of the entire book is spot on for the type of story it’s telling. Dark and raw with a definite dead-pan, tongue-in-cheek style sense of humor. For instance, each chapter has an actual title, and these give you a hint of what is to come within that chapter, yet you will still somehow manage to be surprised. The story is broken up by an interview with Miriam at some other point in time, and how this comes into play with the rest of the storyline is incredibly well-handled. It’s some of the best story structuring I’ve seen in a while, and it’s also a breath of fresh air.
Miriam is also delightful because she is unapologetically ribald and violent. This is so rare to find in heroines.
We’re not talking zombie sex; he didn’t come lurching out of the grave dirt to fill my living body with his undead baby batter. (location 2195)
As a female reader who loves this style, it was just delightful to read something featuring a character of this style who is also a woman. It’s hard to find them, and I like that Wendig went there.
While I enjoyed the plot structure, tone, and characters, the extreme focus on fate was a bit iffy to me. There were passages discussing fate that just fell flat for me. I’m also not sure of how I feel about the resolution. However, I’m also well aware that this is the beginning of a series, so perhaps it’s just that the overarching world rules are still a bit too unclear for me to really appreciate precisely what it is that Miriam is dealing with. This is definitely the first book in the series in that while some plot lines are resolved, the main one is not. If I’d had the second book to jump right into I would have. I certainly hope that the series ultimately addresses the fate question in a satisfactory way, but at this point it is still unclear if it will.
Overall, this is a dark, gritty tale that literally takes urban fantasy on a hitchhiking trip down the American highway. Readers who enjoy a ribald sense of humor and violence will quickly latch on to this new series. Particularly recommended to readers looking for strong, realistic female leads.
4 out of 5 stars