Thunderbird Steers Urban Fantasy into Stranger Territory

It’s been a minute since we’ve had a chance to spend time with Chuck Wendig’s Miriam Black, the cigarette-smoking, liquor-swilling, foul-mouthed avatar of how you and everyone you know is going to die. Across three earlier books, her ability to see the death of whoever she touches has gotten her in more trouble than a lobster in boiling water. We met her, and learned about her unfortunate talent, in Blackbirds, and learned more of her origin story in Mockingbird and saw her face off against her arch-nemesis in The Cormorant. We last left her on her own, victorious but battered, but with a hint at her next move—you see, not only do her abilities extend to more than a one-person ticket to the Death Cinema, there may be someone out there who can rid her of the terrible touch. All Miriam has to do is find her.

Thunderbird picks up in the dry, hammering heat of the American southwest, as Miriam tracks Mary Scissors, the supposed savior she’s so desperately seeking. She’s hunkering down with Gabby, a friend caught in the crosshairs of a previous misadventure, trying to give up smoking, and haunted by the ever present specter of her Trespasser, the supposed sentience behind her abilities. Taking the shape of her lost love Louis, it taunts her, dropping cosmological hints that getting rid of her abilities may not be all its cracked up to be. When Miriam is accosted by a woman at gunpoint, who steals her car and runs away (with her young son in tow) after a man with a rifle starts firing on them, Miriam pursues. And because bad luck follows her like a faithful dog, she uncovers a plot to start a coup against the government, built upon the destructive abilities of a terrorist cell that has, at its heart, other men and women just like Miriam.

Despite a few years away from the series due to a change in publishers, it takes no time to feel right at home with Miriam again. Wendig slams down the accelerator on page one, and never lets up for a moment. His frenetic, shotgun style of prose is a trademark, and nowhere does it hit with as much force, drive, emotion, and explosiveness than when deployed in service to Miriam Black. His descriptions of her inner turmoil—should she get rid of her powers, when they are all she can rely on to uncover the coup—are among the best moments in the book, and truly show the growth this once-broken drifter has experienced since we first met her. Her pain is our pain and her fears are our fears as she puts her hopes on the line again and again to save a young kid who may hold in his grasp a terrifying ability. Wendig surrounds his dark knight with a cast of luridly colorful, broken, vicious, and powered people, especially the woman of the hour, Mary Scissors, whose true powers and motives are something horrifying to behold.

In many ways, this is Wendig at his most Wendig-ian: a noir woman kicking ass in the name of truth, justice, and whiskey, doing her best to avert the worst, gritting her teeth through it all. Miriam is not the character we met back in Blackbirds, though her bad habits have stuck around, along with a penchant for the most inventive cursing in the lexicon of the English language. She is more than just an avatar of death: she’s a bonafide hero, damn it. And from the way her journey ends in Thunderbird, with a twist that plunges in like a knife, she’s going to have her work cut out for her over the next two planned books, hero or not. This is a triumphant return to a series that pushes the boundaries of urban fantasy into stranger territory. There’s plenty to love for readers old and new. If you’re a new reader worried about catching up, don’t be: Miriam doesn’t bite.

Well, she might. Just don’t give her a reason to.

Four books in the Miriam Black series are available now.

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