Those of you who read my reviews regularly (HI MOM) know that I am a huge fan of author Chuck Wendig and his Miriam Black book series.
Two weeks ago saw the release of the series’ fifth (and penultimate) installment, The Raptor and the Wren. Today, we’re going to take a look at what Miriam has been up to since her big trip out west and what new troubles await her on the east coast.
The story thus far
Okay, I’m not going to completely spoil the whole series here, nor am I going to go through every event that’s transpired since we began following Miriam’s journey. You should be reading it from the start anyway–as long as you have a few days to spare, at least. Every person I’ve convinced to pick up the first installment, Blackbirds, has been unable to stop until they catch up with the most current book.
All that being said, though, The Raptor and the Wren leans very heavily on the series’ mythology. Not enough to confuse people like me who forget things easily, but you won’t get as much out of the book as you should if this is your first exposure to the series.
Anyway, here’s a very brief and incomplete synopsis of what’s up:
- Miriam Black is cursed. Whenever she touches someone, she can see exactly how and when they are going to die.
- As you might imagine, this curse has made creating and maintaining interpersonal relationships quite difficult. Add in a healthy dose of childhood trauma, mix it with the adult world not being much better, sprinkle with a generally (and understandable) sour disposition, and you get Miriam.
- Miriam’s powers have proven very helpful in allowing her to scavenge her way to survival. They’ve also gotten her involved in some pretty messed up shenanigans, particularly with folks who have (or desire to have) power like hers.
- Birds aren’t just a literary theme. Over time, Miriam has gone from feeling a small connection with them to making the wargs on Game of Thrones look like amateurs.
- In the last book, Thunderbird, Miriam took down a domestic terrorist cell that included a group of people with crazy (and similar) mental powers in their ranks. She also basically died and got stitched back together by a bunch of birds, who then went full Alfred Hithcock on the asses of all who stood in Miriam’s way. If you think any of that sounds crazy, then you should realize I’m still completely underselling just how crazypants (and totally awesome) the story was.
- Miriam also learned how to reverse/get rid of her curse. Unfortunately, it involves doing something she not only doesn’t want to do, but most likely can’t.
- Remember all those crazy shenanigans I mentioned earlier? A lot of them involved Miriam getting cracked in the head by bad people. Now her brain is basically one good knock away from going full-on Nicholas Cage.
- There’s this dude Miriam might kind of be in love with named Louis. Miriam and Louis have seen some crazy stuff together. They also can’t seem to make the whole relationship thing work, which is why the next time she sees him, he’s found a seemingly normal woman to marry named Samantha. When Miriam touches Samantha, she sees that Louis is going to strangle her to death. So that’s awkward.
What’s Happening Now
You’d think that stuff with Louis would be pretty damn pressing, but as things are wont to do with Miriam, other stuff forces its way into becoming an even bigger crisis.
For starters, someone is going around killing people in ways that Miriam recognizes as homages to some of her past work. As if that weren’t bad enough, the person doing all this has made herself look like Miriam, providing Ms. Black with plenty of unwanted attention and potential guilt.
That problem by itself would be enough to keep anyone busy, but Miriam also has to deal with one of the worst enemies from her past coming back from the dead.
And of course we still have that pesky Tresspasser continuing to whisper all types of nasty stuff into Miriam’s head.
You remember when Luke Skywalker shows up at Jabba’s Palace in Return of the Jedi? Remember how much more badass and in control of his powers he was than the previous movies? Well, Miriam’s kind of like that now, too, but sans any of the zen and tranquility.
Her powers are no longer just a bizarre passive ability. In addition to utilizing her visions of the future like before, she’s also honed her ability to take control of birds into something truly stunning (and lethal when necessary).
Miriam is also much more focused than we’ve ever seen. Her heart and soul my still be a chaotic mess, but her mind is razor sharp and aimed with singular purpose. Unfortunately for her, that purpose gets violently shifted from finding a cure to her curse to finding the Miriam Black look-a-like going on a multi-state killing spree.
Thankfully, Miriam never loses her sick sense of humor. The only thing more consistent than her twisted take on the world is her badass resolve–and that unspeakable tragedy is sure to follow wherever she goes.
The Bird of Doom
Look, I love Hedwig from the Harry Potter series as much as anyone, but Miriam’s winged partner in crime is officially my favorite fictional owl. In addition its awesome name, the creature is most definitely not her pet. Instead, the two exist in a bizarre and beautiful symbioses, which Wendig masterfully portrays in a far more intimate manner than I thought was possible.
You’ll start out thinking you’re going to hate this guy, but he grows on you–and not just because he’s a perfect straight man to Miriam. His weakness allows Miriam to show some of her best qualities, including the ones she doesn’t give herself near enough credit for.
She still hates most people (and for good reason), but there’s still a heart of gold beating beneath the years of tar and tears that have built up around it. Grosky also ends up working perfectly as the schlubby half of what unexpectedly becomes one of the best buddy cop duos you’ll ever read.
Instead of being a grounding presence in Miriam’s life, Louis has turned into one of its greatest sources of turmoil. None of that changes how Miriam feels about him, but it does complicate their relationship considerably…which actually might be for the best.
It also makes Louis by far the most interesting he’s been since the first book.
While Thunderbird ended up being an epic battle royale, The Raptor and The Wren is infinitely more intimate and personal. It also delves heavily into the series’ mythology/characters while pushing Miriam’s own story violently forward.
What begins as a serial killer investigation turns into a fight for survival against a revenge-minded, night unstoppable force Miriam never dreamed she’d ever have to face again.
The book also ties up many of the series’ biggest plot threads–mostly by ripping your heart to shreds and using it as the string–while setting up one hell of a conclusion in the upcoming final installment.
And for those of you who realize/understand what “The Wren” in the title is referring to, her presence in the story helps answer one of the biggest mysteries we’ve had since the second book. If you don’t, then just know that it ends up being a truly fascinating and frustrating character who will keep you wondering as to whether you should root for her or not until the last page…and then some.
What Doesn’t Work
Remember that “revenge-minded, night unstoppable force” I mentioned earlier? It really is good stuff–motivated, terrifying, and quite possibly one of the best villains we’ve ever had. Unfortunately, its origin doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Maybe it’ll get explained more in the next chapter, but as it stands now, he/she’s returns feels like a bit of a cheat.
From a mythology standpoint, The Raptor and the Wren pulls off a near perfect balance of new revelations connecting with prior knowledge and events. Story-wise, it’s another fantastic chapter in Miriam’s unending (and possibly futile) quest to send her demons back to where they came from. As always, the supporting cast is brilliant, terrifying, and tragic. Just like her.
Also, if you thought the ending to the Thunderbird made you mad, then make sure you have something to hit and/or squeeze after the last page of this one.