This was a good one.
Chuck clearly demonstrates he has chops in ‘Blackbirds,’ and I plan to check out some of his other books now.
A few things stand out to me in this book:
Foreshadowing: Chuck uses the supernatural power of his main character to great effect as a means of keeping his readers hooked throughout the book. He shows us just enough to keep us interested, and the main character is just as lost as we are as an added bonus. And it’s also one of the book’s major themes (it reminded me of ‘An Appointment in Samara’). This leads to–
The plot: The cause and effect chain is strong with this one, but there’s more here. Because of his frequent and highly effective use of foreshadowing, Chuck is able to AMPLIFY his use of plot by baffling us with a seemingly impossible glimpse of the future of the book, then taking the characters to that point in plot through logical cause and effect. It’s kind of like when you have a deja vu dream that seems ridiculous out of context until you snap to one day and realize you just lived that dream you had six months ago and it was fine. Or am I the only one to whom that happens?
The voice: I went over this one in my initial review. If you follow Chuck’s blog–and you should–you’ll know what I mean here.
Now for constructive criticism. These things are things which I noticed and, keep in mind, they obviously did not prevent me from enjoying and finishing Blackbirds.
The Plot/ Foreshadowing: As I said before, Chuck utilizes a plot device in which a character has prophetic visions of the book’s climax. The one downside to this approach–where you straight up telegraph the ending–is you immediately make it predictable. I know it’s a little counter intuitive, but ultimately it’s because only one of two things can happen: A) the prophecy is fulfilled, and B) the prophecy is not fulfilled. It can leave the readers less-enthused about the climax but, as I mentioned before, the real hook for me was in seeing how Chuck would take us into these seemingly impossible situations.
Horror: Some sites and retailers list Blackbirds as horror. Some of you may know my history with horror (I’m hard to scare) and I did not find this book scary or indeed horrifying. This in itself doesn’t mean the book is not horror; the only book to ever scare me was Stoker’s Dracula, and then only during Benjamin Harker’s carriage ride to Drac’s Palace.
The reason why I listed this under constructive criticism is because I perceived the ‘horror’ aspect of Blackbirds to be gross-out imagery. Maggots, insects, blood, bodily fluids, and gore. Some people consider this horror. I consider it imagery.
And Chuck’s imagery is GOOD. It’s just not scary. Not to me anyway. Maybe some people are afraid of some of the things I listed above, but if I paid to see a horror movie and was instead treated to a bunch of clips of poop, maggots, and flies, I’d probably walk out.
The secret to horror is what you DON’T show. Because our minds know what terrifies us. Let us imagine it and we’ll scare ourselves shitless. Show us something YOU think is scary and we’ll laugh. Because you can’t describe scary. You have to feel it. LIVE it.
Loose ends: Tiny thing here. The red snow shovel. It shows up a bunch of times. But it’s never explained. At least, if it was, I missed it. I know Blackbirds is #1 of a series, but this seems odd not to at least have an, “I’ll explain later,” moment. Because apart from this, it seems a wonderful standalone novel.
Also, the main bad-guy was a bit one-note.
So that’s my spiel. Take a look at Blackbirds for yourself–you’ll be glad you did–and leave a comment here. Am I off base about pus not being scary, or what? Let me know!