Book Review: Thunderbird by Chuck Wendig
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Series: Book 4 of Miriam Black
Publisher: Saga Press (February 28, 2017)
Length: 400 pages
Chuck Wendig is one of my favorite authors, and to date I must have read more than a dozen of his books. But whenever someone asks what I think is his best work, my mind always comes back to Miriam Black.
Oh Miriam, Miriam, Miriam, “my fair fuckin’ lady” Miriam. From the very start she had me with her snarky spitfire devil-may-care ways, though in truth it is her secret power that makes most people sit up and pay attention. With no more than the slightest touch, she can tell you when you’ll die and how it’ll happen. All she needs is a bit of skin-on-skin contact, and the visions will trigger and she will know.
But is such a power more of a gift or a curse? Very few people actually want the knowledge Miriam can glean, and her abilities have brought her more pain than anything else. Imagine foreseeing hundreds of deaths, many of which can be pretty disturbing or gruesome—accidents, car crashes, illnesses, murders, and suicides. Imagine seeing how those closest to you will die, but knowing there’s nothing you can do to stop it or change it.
So Miriam has decided that she doesn’t want anything to do with death anymore. Thunderbird is the fourth novel of the series in which our protagonist begins to take the necessary steps to get rid of her powers. Last we saw her, she had just gotten a name of a person who might be able to help, so now she’s on her way to the Southwest to find the psychic known as Mary Scissors. Unfortunately, Mary is proving to be a hard woman to find, and soon Miriam and her friend Gabby are getting mixed up with the Arizona drug gangs and crazy militia cults.
Technically, it is possible to read Thunderbird on its own without having read the previous novels, though I have to say it’s probably not ideal. The story here is a culmination of everything that happened before, and knowing Miriam’s past will make it easier to understand why she has come to a point where she feels she has no choice but to get rid of her curse. There are also characters and references to events from the first three novels, and the significance of some of these appearances and mentions are going to be confusing if you haven’t read them yet. Even I had a few stumbles along the way because I couldn’t remember all the details of what happened; after all, it has been about three years since the last book came out, and it was a wait that felt like an eternity at times, given how much I adore this series.
Still, a part of me also has to wonder if the long hiatus affected my experience with this book, because there are certain aspects that feel a little different about it. One thing that first made me fall in love with the Miriam Black series was the sheer horror aspect of it; I still remember certain scenes from Blackbirds and Mockingbird that were so violently and gut-churningly graphic that I almost couldn’t bear to read anymore. And yet, I also once wrote how Wendig’s writing can make you desperately want to keep turning the pages and be scared to do so at the same time, and that is why I love these books.
Thunderbird, however, probably didn’t hit me as profoundly or affect me as viscerally. Is Miriam Black getting soft? I certainly hope not! But this book did strike me as being a little more conventional and having fewer sharp edges as the first three. One simply has to compare the villains in this story to the likes of those that came before (Ashley Gaynes? Shudder! The Mockingbird Killer? GAH!) and it’s easy to see why this one felt less terrifying and lacked a certain punch in that regard. I also had some mixed feelings about the interludes. Let’s just say they can be…tricky. Time jumps can be tough to pull off, and personally I didn’t think they worked all of the time. I enjoyed those flashbacks that dropped at appropriate moments, giving us important details or building up the atmosphere, but I didn’t like them so much when they disrupted the momentum and took away from the developing suspense.
That said, while this probably wasn’t my favorite book of the series (that distinction still belongs to The Cormorant, the previous one) I still think it’s great because of what it does for Miriam. Wendig has done an exceptional job developing her backstory and personality in Thunderbird, and in spite of all her faults and damaged psyche, I just love everything about her character. Beneath that sarcastic badass persona is a woman with a bigger heart than she would probably like to admit, and over the last couple installments we’ve been able to see that part of her emerge.
There really is no one else quite like Miriam Black, so if you haven’t had the pleasure of meeting her yet, what are you waiting for? I highly recommend picking up this series, and if you can, definitely start her story from the beginning. I promise you won’t regret it.