Seeing the future is still never a good idea.
Over two years after I read the first book, I finally read Mockingbird, the second in Chuck Wendig’s Miriam Black series. Miriam is trying to move on after the life-altering events of the first book, but she isn’t having much success. “Lying low” is a difficult concept for her, and soon enough she finds herself drawn back into the fine art of messing with destiny.
This book gets better and more interesting retroactively following the twist, so that’s why I marked this review as containing spoilers. I’ll talk about the twist in a few paragraphs, but the next paragraphs are still spoiler-free, just as a courtesy to those of you foolhardy enough to ignore the spoiler warning at the beginning of the review.
Wendig continues with the take-no-prisoners gritty diction and characterization he uses in Blackbirds and Bait Dog. I don’t like it. Yet this doesn’t diminish my enjoyment of the books. Why is that? I can only conjecture that Wendig’s skill as a storyteller allows him to sweep me up in the plot; I genuinely care about Miriam and her adventure even though I’m not all that enthusiastic by the deeply twisted type of world Wendig has going on here. Perhaps this is a good example of an author creating a character who is sympathetic even if she is not likable (or, for me in particular, an entire world that is sympathetic but unlikable!).
Mockingbird delivers on the potential to expand Miriam’s character and continue exploring how she deals with her psychic gift/curse. I wanted to read more about her as soon as I finished Blackbirds. However, I was also wondering where Wendig would go with the story. He has managed to find an interesting place to take it: now that Miriam knows the future can be changed, but only at great expense, she bends herself to accomplishing this to do something worthwhile. She wants to save the life of a teenage girl who will one day be murdered by a serial killer.
Spoilers start here.
Up until we learn about Eleanor Caldecott’s commensurate psychic power, this seems like another psychic twist on a murder mystery/thriller. I was pretty invested in watching Miriam track down the man with the swallow tattoo and kill him before he kills these girls. But my overall sentiments about Mockingbird would probably be described as “meh.”
Then we find out that Eleanor Caldecott has a power similar to Miriam’s own, only she sees the person’s entire trajectory (and not usually their death), and that’s just brilliant.
I find Caldecott’s role as a crusader quite believable. Wendig shows how this kind of premonition power twists one’s sense of morality and ethics. Caldecott wants to save people, and she has succumbed to a solipsistic idea that she can save many by eliminating a few “bad apples.” Her traumatic adolescence and emotional abuse at the hands of sexist and classist parents have weighed her down with all sorts of interesting baggage that makes her a far richer character than either of her sons. And as she explains, in brutal detail, why she plans to kill these girls, it starts to make twisted sense. Not sense, mind you—but twisted sense, the same sort of twisted logic that other psychopaths use to justify their world view.
Caldecott’s emergence as the true antagonist also puts Miriam into a new, even better light. She definitely sides with “good” here—and now she isn’t squaring off a single, deranged serial killer but what amounts to a small cult of deranged assassins and their psychic leader. This is an act of redemption for her, much as Louis’ actions are his attempts at redeeming himself. For this reason, Mockingbird ends a much stronger and more positive note than Blackbirds.
I have no idea what’s in store next for Miriam, but I will read the next book, I suppose. Part of me isn’t looking forward to Wendig’s style—but somehow I’m going back in anyway. Glutton for punishment? Or just stalwart fan who is invested in seeing Miriam’s arc continue? No idea. I guess we’ll see what happens when she arrives in Florida. At some point, I suppose, we’ll need to get a glimpse at Miriam’s death itself….