One Last, Wild Ride with Miriam Black: Chuck Wendig’s Vultures

The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog

If you recognize Chuck Wendig’s name, there’s a good chance it’s because of his bestselling Star Wars tie-in novels, or maybe his outsized Twitter persona, which has given him both a large platform for his pointed political commentary, and inadvertently birthed at least one feature film starring a former Buffy actor (to date). If I had my druthers, just as many of you—if not more—would think of him as the mad genius who gave us Miriam Black.

It is rare that a character can get under the skin and burrow in like a ravenously hungry tick, but over the course of five increasingly manic, breakneck books, Wendig’s foul-mouthed anti-hero has done just that. When the author announced that Vultures was going to bring an end to her violent, death-soaked saga, I have to admit, I was a bit crestfallen (bird pun alert). All good things must come to end eventually—though Miriam would have words with anyone who suggested the events of her life resemble anything remotely approaching good—but nevertheless, I’ll miss every ill-fated hair on her head (I still get bummed when I think about the Miriam Black TV series we almost got).

Yet I’m not here to lament the end of a terrific series or its memorable main character—I am here to rejoice in the fact that the fast and furious finale delivers in big, big ways. The swirling tornado of plot points that’s only been growing larger from book to book finally touches down with a vengeance, and leaves little in its wake. This isn’t one of those fantasy series that invites readers aboard at any point. You’ll want to start the wild ride right at the beginning in Blackbirds, which first introduced Miriam Black, a drifter/grifter badass gifted and cursed with the ability to definitively know how someone will die, just by touching them.

If you’ve read through The Raptor and The Wren, you know that things have gotten, well, increasingly complicated for Miriam as of late. Her dark gift has morphed and evolved in sinister ways, as has the presence in her life of the mysterious entity she has dubbed The Trespasser—a quasi-supernatural presence that has long haunted and tortured her, for heretofore unknown reasons. In Vultures, things only get more complicated before the answers start to roll in. Miriam’s final ride is as blisteringly paced as anything Wendig has written, managing to expand our understanding of Miriam and her unwanted abilities even as it yanks the narrative over the finish line, dragging sparks.

Without spoiling the trip for those who have followed her thus far, know that Vultures brings it, and brings it unrelentingly hard. We join Miriam on the hunt for a face-peeling, disemboweling serial killer with a nickname too foul to print on a respectable website like this one, and at first it appears that even the horrific events that concluded book five have not fully destroyed her. She has been torn down emotionally and physically, yet she has been hardened, too. Her body is no longer her own, and the stakes she’s facing this time have been pushed to teetering, Jenga-esque levels. Though as perpetually self-centered as ever, Miriam is driven to save just one more person, even if it kills her, and to try and shake the stranglehold of The Trespasser once and for all.

Nothing has ever been easy for Miriam, and Vultures draws the noose around her neck about as tight as it can go (silly me, I really thought Thunderbird had already done that). There are intertwining callbacks to each of her earlier misadventures, leading to a nail-ripper of a finale of the sort Wendig does so well: it steers a collection of familiar characters along their own blood-filled paths to some sort of properly fitting end. Bringing this mad, death-ridden odyssey a measure of closure is no simple thing, especially after earlier books have gone to places so exponentially dark. But Wendig sticks the landing, and Miriam does too.

Pitch black humor, foul language aplenty, and blink-quick bloodletting. Or as I call it: a typical Miriam Black adventure. No one could call Miriam lovable and live to tell about it, but I’ll say it: I love this character, and I’m going to miss her. If you’ve an appetite for self-destruction, you will too. In Casablanca, Rick famously tells his former lover Ilsa, “We’ll always have Paris.” Well, Miriam Black and I will always have this time we’ve spent on the road to hell and back. Maybe that means it’s time start the whole gory trek all over again.

Vultures is available now.

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