The Cormorant by Chuck Wendig is the third installment of the ongoing Miriam Black series, which follows the many trials and tribulations of the eponymous character who has the not-all-it’s-cracked-up-to-be ability to see how somebody will die, simply by touching them. When you spend that much time seeing death, your life gets pretty crappy pretty quickly, and this book takes us further into the dark with a twisted story not for the faint of heart.
Miriam is on the road again, having transitioned from “thief” to “killer.”
Hired by a wealthy businessman, she heads down to Florida to practice the one thing she’s good at, but in her vision she sees him die by another’s hand and on the wall written in blood is a message just for Miriam. She’s expected…
Before I start on the review of the book, I feel obliged to say, as usual, that Joey HiFi is arguably the best cover artist in speculative fiction today. The level of detail in his covers is absolutely astonishing, and his work on The Cormorant is no exception. I don’t think I’ve seen a cover artist whose work better encapsulates the subject matter. If you’re very lucky, the scene on the cover actually appears in the book, but you don’t often get that. Joey HiFi’s work makes me assume he actually reads the entirety of every book he designs art for ahead of time, and works so many subtle details of the plot into the cover that you can actually get more out of his artwork after you’ve finished the book. *phew* Now that that’s out of the way…
While some amount of time passes between each of these books, they’re close enough together that they really can be treated as one single narrative split into parts. Working from that assumption, we seem to be at the ‘End of The Empire Strikes Back’ stage in the arc: things are definitely taking a darker turn, and given where we were at the end of Mockingbird, that is saying a lot. This seems to be a byword for Wendig, whose non-Miriam Black works that I’ve read are also pretty dark and gritty, but he does it so very well. He’s pretty graphic with his violence and his sex and his language. These are definitely R-rated books, but like all adult content done well, it very much adds to it. You never feel like Wendig is playing for shock value, these are just the characters he wrote.
A recurring theme throughout this series is that of fate and free will. When you can see exactly how, when, and where somebody is going to die, the urge to try and prevent it would become overwhelming. In earlier books, mention is made of what happens when Miriam tries to effect what she has seen. Generally, it doesn’t end very well. The Cormorant adds a new wrinkle to this situation. When witnessing the death of a person, someone has left a message at the scene, for her to read at the time she foresaw the death of the person.
…Think about that for a second. Some time in the future, this person is going to die, and the person who is going to do it (but hasn’t yet) is going to leave a message for Miriam to see now (before it happened). This is perilously close to time-travel mechanics, which are something very difficult to do properly. As usual, however, Wendig pulls it off marvelously and you’re left with anticipation and dread rather than feeling like things are now too predictable. I’d love to go more into detail about how all of that plays out and how it interacts with my own theories of how fate, time travel, etc. work but that would both take too much space and spoil this great book.
One last thing I’ll say before this review comes to a close, on the off chance that Chuck should ever see this: I know you’ve been told this a thousand times (without visions of the future even) but if you are -ever- going to try to option these stories as movies, you must must must do it before Helena Bonham Carter is too old to play Miriam. I am 100% unable to picture her as anybody else and if it doesn’t get done I’ll be so very sad.
If you’ve read Blackbirds and Mockingbird you’re in for much more of the same with plenty new to keep it fresh. If you enjoy the darker, grittier side of Urban Fantasy, another of Wendig’s novels The Blue Blazes is a great choice. You might also have a look at Justin Gustainis’ Evil Dark for a similar theme. The fourth book in the Miriam Black series, Thunderbird is already in the works, along with an announced 5th and finally 6th book, so fans of Miriam have plenty to look forward to.