Book Review: The Blue Blazes by Chuck Wendig
Okay, my first thought after reading this book: Chuck Wendig is awesome! Then, my second thought: Why on earth haven’t I heard about or read anything from this author before now? So, my thanks to Angry Robot for rectifying this, by providing me with an e-ARC of The Blue Blazes via NetGalley. The book’s expected publication date is May 28, 2013.
So what are the “Blue Blazes” anyway? In the book it’s one of the many slang names for a type of drug, a cerulean powder
that when rubbed onto your temples will not only give you one hell of a buzz, but it’ll also allow you to see through the “glamor” of
monsters living amongst the populace. The book is a tale of two Underworlds — a literal Underworld located beneath the depths of New York City where the Blue Blazes are actually mined, as well as a criminal underworld run by a cabal called the Organization which controls the drug.
Mookie Pearl is our main protagonist, a hulk of a man who used to work down in the mines but is now a loyal member of the Organization. Working for the mob is just a way of life, that is until a big secret about “The Boss” comes to light, leading to a power struggle which shakes up the foundations of all the gangs in the city. And as if that wasn’t bad enough, Mookie’s estranged daughter also becomes involved. Now, criminals and thugs he can handle. Same goes for the goblins and other dangerous creatures of the Underworld. But Nora Pearl can definitely give Mookie a run for his money.
The book is like your favorite action movie meets paranormal urban fantasy. It seriously doesn’t stop. Just when you think things are winding down, you get more. Mookie Pearl is all muscle and brawn, preferring to use his fists over his brains whenever he’s in a tight situation. I can’t really say he’s my type when it comes to fictional characters, but if you enjoy non-stop thrills and lots of brawling action, then he’s definitely your man.
I also have to say that I love Chuck Wendig’s wit and punchy writing style. Its almost staccato-like rhythm is perfect for the gritty nature of the story, and I was hooked within the first few minutes of reading. When it comes to dealing with points-of-view, however, I felt the book could have done with less jumping around from perspective to perspective. The scene changes seemed to occur very frequently. As with the prose, I feel that this was quite appropriate for the overall tone of the story, but it also made for some confusing moments where I had to figure out where I was.
Still, the best thing about this book has to be the world-building. Not something I would have expected AT ALL from an action-oriented urban fantasy novel like this, but I do love it when I’m surprised. What Chuck Wendig has created is just simply amazing. Through detailed descriptions, he’s painted an original and convincing picture of the secret Underworld below. For example, I loved the addition of “excerpts” from Underworld expert and cartographer John Atticus Oakes’ journal at the beginning of every chapter. The plot mostly drove me to keep reading, but admittedly, I was also motivated knowing I would be rewarded with more from Oakes. These little tidbits provided background information, complementing the storytelling by filling in the gaps or going into more detail about the life and lore of the Underworld.
The collection of horrifying creatures the author has created also bears mentioning. From the Gobbos to Snakefaces, each are described in such creative detail. Granted, I would not want to meet any of these in a dark alley at night, but I have to admire the imagination and ingenuity that went into coming up with these monsters and the places in which they live. The paranormal aspects, everything from the pigments and their, er, curious drug effects to the supernatural and magical ways of The Blue Blazes universe are unlike anything I’ve ever encountered in the genre.
Bottom line: despite my lack of connection to the main character and some issues I had with the constant scene shifts, these are just personal preferences. I think more important are the book’s strengths, such as the world-building which is exceptionally well done, rivaling some of my favorite epic fantasies. I really can’t praise this part of the book enough. Truly a surprising treasure trove of fresh and interesting ideas.