It took but one book in Chuck Wendig’s Miriam Black series to get me all weak-kneed and goggly-eyed over the title character, a punky anti-social anti-heroine who makes Lisbeth Salander look positively well-adjusted. I was quite smitten by her foul mouth, not-quite-legal lifestyle, no holds ass-kicking, and general vibe of ruthless self-preservation. The fact that she can tell how and when a person would die just by making skin-to-skin contact only made her perpetual bad attitude that much more special to me.
Miriam is tainted by a curse, but she’s a survivor in spite of it. Over the course of this manically paced contemporary fantasy series (Blackbirds, Mockingbird, The Cormorant, Thunderbird), Wendig has put the character through an ever more brutal physical and emotional meat grinder. Her personal relationships have fallen to bits while her new special ability (oh yes, she now has more than one) has mutated in gloriously bizarre ways.
It’s been a wild ride, as all along Miriam has struggled to learn the truths about her dark gift; book four, Thunderbird, was easily the bleakest of the bunch, as mercilessly pushed, pulled, and dragged his badass lead through one grim scenario after another as she searched for big answers to big questions. It got pretty ugly for everyone involved. But in the words of Bachman-Turner Overdrive, you ain’t seen nothing yet.
The Raptor and The Wren picks up not long after the cataclysmic events of Thunderbird, and if you’re new to the edgy joy that is the Miriam Black saga, take an immediate detour to book one and start there. (Thank me later.) Here in book five, we encounter Miriam reverting briefly back to her old steal-from-the-soon-to-be-dead ways, before she finds herself reluctantly paired up with former FBI agent Thomas Grosky, an acquaintance introduced in The Cormorant. There’s been a string of gory, seemingly random murders, allegedly committed by a woman who witnesses claim looks an awful lot like you know who, and there’s been a lot of suspicious chatter in a subreddit about a mysterious “Angel of Death” that also sounds like a woman we know. There is also this oversized owl—Miriam nicknames it “The Bird of Doom”—hanging around, and it soon becomes an integral and deadly part of the mystery.
Wendig dials to eleven the violent maelstrom that is Miriam’s life, pulling in a gaggle of familiar characters from past installments along the way, tying them together into a tangled rat king of death and discovery. This time around, the narrative hits even harder than before, propelling Miriam well beyond her comfort zone and forcing her to dig herself in even deeper to survive. As usual, Wendig writes like he’s driving a truck full of dynamite downhill, on ice, and his brakes are out, careening madly from one absurd action beat to another, with black humor keeping pace all the way.
But it’s what’s beneath the surface that really resonates. The tone grows relentlessly darker—bordering on the full on supernatural at times—and even the chip on Miriam’s shoulder might break under the pressure. The body count is high, and the dramatic twists and turns are huge. By the breathless conclusion, the ground has crumbled out from under our protagonist, and the debris hammered beyond recognition. It’s a vicious gut punch, and the setup for Vultures (the sixth and final book) is merciless. Maybe Miriam can take it, but I’m not sure I can.