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