The Short Version: Miriam Black wants out. She wants out of her curse and to have a live that might, in some circles, be considered “normal” – or at least something more normal than the one she’s living. But when the woman who might be able to help her turns out to be working with domestic terrorists, shit takes a dark turn even for Miriam – and Fate, it seems, has plans for her whether she likes it or not.
The Review: I picked this book up just after the election. I was angry, scared, pissed off… not, I realize, unlike Miriam Black. And it turns out misery does love company – because this book was the thing that snapped me out of my week-long funk.
It’s uncanny, considering the fact that Wendig had this book in the can in 2015, how apt a read this book is (and will be) for the early days of The Beast‘s Presidency. The cult that Miriam falls in with… well, they aren’t so much a cult as they are a militia. You remember those idiots who occupied that wildlife refuge in Oregon at the beginning of 2016? They’re that sort: guns, a belief that things need to change, a “Don’t Tread on Me” flag. Wendig gives them some cultish aspects as well (which I’ll come to in a moment) but I applaud him for also not mincing words: these people are terrorists, domestic terrorists. It continues to astonish, the idea that we cannot call a spade a spade and see people menacing this country with violence as terrorists. Timothy McVeigh was a terrorist, so too is this guy waving the Confederate flag and menacing drivers. It is crucial to our understanding of this book, though, that Wendig also makes sure we recognize these people. They are our neighbors, not some cackling stereotyped evildoers. We’re afraid of those who come from elsewhere, of the Other – but we ought to be afraid of ourselves, the ones who stand just next to us in line at the supermarket. Reading this book in mid-November was like a focusing of the realizations of 11/9; namely, that there’s a whole lot we all don’t know about each other in this country.
But all politics aside, this wouldn’t be a Miriam Black tale without some freaky shit going down and this militia isn’t just made up of libertarian “patriots” – there are people like Miriam, people with special abilities. One can pull ideas from a person’s mind, another (in a brilliant hat tip to Lying Cat from Brian K. Vaughan’s Saga) automatically says “Lying.” when someone isn’t telling the truth. Not to mention Mary Scissors, the target of Miriam’s quest – who can supposedly see how things are broken and identify how to put them back together. Miriam has encountered others like her before, but never anything like this.
Miriam, though, isn’t quite the same girl we met before either. Remember the whole thing with the birds in The Cormorant? Multiply that by a factor of ten: Miriam is learning about her powers. In fact, she only survives this book because of her ability to jump into the minds of birds… something that still doesn’t feel explained when you consider that Miriam’s “power” is the ability to see how people die. How do the two connect? Wendig keeps teasing out larger answers as he expands the world of these stories – and he’s doing it at such a pace that allows the reader to feel like they’re learning more while also keeping them on the hook and saying “DAMN YOU CHUCK GIVE ME ANSWERS!” at the same time. If the six-book Miriam Black series could be looked at as two trilogies (which, considering the first three books existed on their own long before 4/5/6 were announced, you could maybe make that argument), this is the start of a second arc – one that is much bigger and much more daring.
Speaking of daring, let’s talk about how assured Wendig’s writing is in this book. The Cormorant originally came out in late 2013 – and Thunderbird is coming out in early 2017. In that time, he’s written several other series (including but not limited to official Star Wars novels) and the gained experience is obvious: he’s working at the height of his powers here. This is not to say that the writing wasn’t good in the earlier books (it was, I loved them) but now it’s something to behold. He manages to include stomach-turning horror, trippy surreality, massive action-sequence shootout violence, deep emotional character development, that trademark sassy humor, and even some very real talk about addicts getting clean and none of it feels out of place. I was perhaps most impressed by the emotional work between Miriam and Gabby and how that unexpected relationship becomes potentially far more meaningful than even Miriam’s relationship with Louis. The fact that this development comes interspersed among all the other amazing things (Miriam’s near-death experience and her assault on the compound spring immediately to mind) makes it even more impressive.
And because it wouldn’t be a Miriam Black novel without a moment (or two) to actually say “oh shit” out loud while reading… boy howdy, that ending. First there’s the development of Miriam’s quest, a pretty “whoa” moment – but then, hot on its heels, there’s the actual ending of the book, which is some stomach-dropping-out-as-you-start-the-first-roller-coaster-drop “!!!” stuff.
Rating: 5 out of 5. Just, hell yes. Wendig returns to his signature anti-heroine with renewed vigor and delivers a knockout thrill-ride full of twists, scares, emotionally resonant moments, and a whole heap of action that also moves the plot forward. It oddly feels like the book that puts Miriam’s world most in line with the one we’re living in – both in terms of her increased humanity and the very convincing homegrown terrorists Wendig pits her against. The series is ratcheting up as we head into the back half – and while we’re hopefully getting the final two books within the space of the next 18 months… well, damn, I hope they get here soon. I, for one, can’t wait.