My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This is the fourth installment in Wendig’s Miriam Black series. Miriam has a gift- or perhaps it is more of a curse: if she touches you, skin to skin, she sees your death. The when, where, and how of that death, whatever it may be. It’s not always pretty. Sure, there are the quiet, gentle glides into the darkness, but there are also gruesome murders, suicides, and the myriad other painful deaths that people experience. In this installment, Miriam is traveling to the Southwest to follow up on a clue revealed in the third book. She is seeking the seer Mary Scissors, who may have the power to lift the curse and free Miriam from her burdens. But, of course, things are never as they seem, and Mary turns out to be, if not a legend herself, a particularly difficult person to pin down. Add in a cult of terrorists bent on one big act of destruction, a young boy with a gift of his own running from those who would use him, and a few others with psychic powers of their own, and, once again, Miriam is thrown into the middle of a deadly mystery.
I love Miriam Black. She’s sassy, bold, sarcastic, foul-mouthed, and extremely self-reliant. She’s also flawed, haunted by both her gift/curse and her own past, and she cares far more than she would ever admit about the people (well, most of them, anyway) she meets along her way. Once a drifter who used her power for her own gain, Miriam has changed over the course of the series. She has tried to help many of those whose unfair deaths she has seen, but she has also learned that in the grand scheme of everything, the balance of good and evil, life and death must be respected. For every life she saves, one must be sacrificed, and it is often Miriam who is left to set the balance right again. She’s changed over the series, and with one book left to go, it feels like the storm is gathering.
Wendig has made a bit of a reputation for writing horror that grabs you and won’t let go. Miriam Black is no exception. The books can be grisly and shocking as any other in the genre (one, I admit, I generally don’t read. Wendig is an exception). But that’s not the sum and substance of his work. He writes characters that, if not wholly lovable, are people- good, bad, ugly, flawed, disillusioned, hopeful, kind, cruel- the gamut of what makes people real. This particular installment of the Miriam Black series is more character and perhaps somewhat less horror/grisly than previous books. But we see Miriam develop a lot over the course of the story, and it is that growth that helps point the way to the next, and last, book in the series. There are flashbacks interspersed in the story here that help round out the characters well, even if some of them were dropped into the action at a point that seemed to slow things down a bit much. The mythology surrounding Mary Scissors and the rest of the plot is laid out well without being preachy. The ending is satisfying and still leaves the reader eager to see what’s next for Miriam. The book, and the entire series (which you should read in order as the arc of Miriam’s growth is spread throughout), should appeal to those who like urban fantasy with a strong horror aspect. It’s not always pretty, and some of it is disturbing, but it’s fast-paced and leaves you wanting to read just a few more pages. Miriam will scare you, upset you, make you laugh and sob, and she will stick with you.
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