For those of us who are fans of Chuck Wendig’s Miriam Black book series, there are two undeniable truths:
- We have exceptional taste.
- The wait for Vultures, the last book in the series, had us all on pins and needles.
Now that it’s finally here, let’s dive in and see if Mr. Wendig gives Miriam the badass, emotionally fulfilling conclusion that her story deserves, shall we?
Things in Miriam’s life have always found a way to blow up into life or death catastrophes, testing both her physical wellbeing and her mental/emotional fortitude. So when I say that things are bad for Miriam after The Raptor and the Wrenn (and at the start of Vultures), it’s a laughable understatement.
For starters, her pet battle owl is dead, something that I still haven’t fully processed or grieved. Louis is also dead, murdered by Wrenn, the girl who idealized and defied Miriam in the suffocating manners imaginable. To make matters worse, Miriam is also pregnant with Louis’s child…which isn’t necessarily a bad thing on its own. Having a child who was fathered by her now deceased lover is far from ideal, but Miriam wasn’t even supposed to be able to get pregnant after the violent incident that cursed her with a potent mix of magic and tragedy. Desired or not, it’s still a miracle.
Unfortunately, her and Louis’s child is fated to die as soon as he/she enters the world.
This sets Miriam on a collision course for a final showdown with The Trespasser, the entity that has been pulling the strings of her chaotic and tragic life since she gained the ability to see how and when people will die. Now Miriam more determined than ever to rid the Tresspasser from her life once and for all. To save Gabby, to save her baby, and maybe to save us all.
Whenever I hear that a new television or book series is taking the world by storm, I always worry about getting invested in what may turn out to be a lackluster conclusion…and subsequently being scolded by pseudo pop culture intellectuals about how I should just enjoy the journey and not care (or be critical) of unanswered questions and giant dangling plot threads.
Maybe I’m just a speculative fiction luddite, but I simply cannot accept that. Even if a series’ progression is fantastic, it doesn’t mean that I, as a fan, am going to wave away my investment in the big mysteries posed by a long running series. Yes, the characters’ emotional journeys are important, but that doesn’t let the nuts-and-bolts narrative off the hook without a solid conclusion. Ambiguity is certainly fine, but it’s not fair for a writer to promise answers (either directly or narratively) only at the end to scream “IT WAS ALL A MCGUFFIN JUST WORRY ABOUT THE CHARACTER ARCS!” as they exit.
Thankfully, Wendig makes damn sure that Vultures sticks the landing on all accounts.
- Miriam’s vision of Gabby’s suicide from The Cormorant? Yes.
- How Miriam can be pregnant after the attack that cursed her? Of course.
- The “real world” fallout for Miriam’s actions with law enforcement? Yep.
- A reckoning for Wrenn after killing her idol’s lover/baby daddy? Uh-huh.
- What is the Trespasser and what is its endgame with Miriam? Oh yeah.
There’s still a little ambiguity on a few things, but it’s the right type–the type that makes you wish for the story to unfold a little more because of the new information you’ve obtained instead of the information you still lack.
Wendig even manages to answer questions you never knew you had, deftly weaving threads from the prior books into new plot points and revelations, all of which are set up in a manner that won’t require you to go back and search through the first five installments of the series.
Like a lot of Miriam’s tales, Vultures is a nonlinear journey that revolves around a horrific crime that ends up leading to a terrible truth. This time, however, it’s for all the marbles. Miriam isn’t just surviving or being coaxed into rescuing people by her tarnished golden heart, although Gabby and her unborn child certainly pull at the rusted strings attached to it. She’s fighting to end her curse–and The Trespasser–for good.
It’s not all cool scenes and shocking revelations, though. As always, Miriam’s journey as a character remains front and center of the story. She’s still the foul-mouthed badass we know and love, but her nihilism has ebbed considerably since we first met her, often countered by a well-earned degree of self-awareness and introspection. The blade of Miriam’s soul is still razor sharp, but the metal has finally been polished enough to reflect some light.
Gabby also gets her time to shine and doesn’t disappoint, serving as a big-hearted foil to Miriam’s surliness while also demonstrating an admirable strength and will. She could have easily been just a cheap replacement for Louis or a plot device. Instead, Wendig puts the finishing touches on what turns out to be a fantastic character.
We also get introduced to a Lyft driver named Steve who initially feels like comic relief, but ends up inserting himself into the heart and soul of the story. There are plenty of cameos and callbacks to other characters, but in just one book, Steve endears himself in such a way that I honestly miss him.
And then we have The Trespasser. This time around, Wendig really lets the entity out to play in all its horrifying glory. It interacts with Miriam more directly (and more often) than ever, proving to be by far her most formidable foe. Its gut churning visuals are second only to its words, which are not only more vicious than ever, but serrated by some of the of best-described audio affects you could hope to haunt your dreams.
Add in a seemingly deranged-yet-brilliant serial killer, a couple of intriguing FBI agents, a boatload of cool cameos/callbacks, and plenty of birds, and you’ve once again got one heck of a great cast getting caught in the blast radius of Miriam’s conflicts.
What Doesn’t Work
So here’s the problem with a book like this being a near perfect conclusion to the series: Unlike The Cormorant, Vultures really can’t/doesn’t work well on its own as a book. There’s virtually no way you could only read this book in the series and get a fraction of what you should out of it
That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it’s a strength that the rest of the books in the Miriam Black series all had to varying degrees.
Also, I kind of missed some of the big action set pieces from the last two books. There are still plenty of great moments, but the conflicts and battles here play out on much smaller scales than before. Again, not necessarily a bad thing, but not really my preference, either.
It’s hard saying goodbye to my all-time favorite book series, but I am extremely glad to report that Chuck Wendig sends Miriam Black’s tale out in style. He’s also kind/smart enough to leave a little wiggle room for potential future stories without betraying the novel’s wonderful conclusion.
This wasn’t my favorite book in the series, but it was about the best way possible to end it. That might not make a lot of sense to you, but neither does a person like Miriam. Even with all the growth and chance to see her innermost thoughts, she continues to be an enigma. A beautifully vile, heroically toxic person who represents both the very best and worst in all of us.
Let’s hope we might one day get to go on a coffee and cigarette-filled adventure with her again.