There’s something about Miriam Black. Maybe it’s her addictive, destructive personality. Maybe it’s her ability to see how you die or her magical power to control birds with her mind. Or maybe it’s just that she’s a total badass with an attitude as harsh as her haircut. Whatever that brutal bite of personality is, Miriam brings it in full force in The Raptor and the Wren, the fifth book in Chuck Wendig’s fiery, ferocious series.
Given that this is the fifth novel in a six-book series, summarizing without spoilers is damn near impossible. So here’s the short and sweet. The Raptor and the Wren picks up not long after the events of Thunderbird. Miriam is coasting in Florida trying to do and be as little as possible. Days pass in a haze of alcohol, cigarettes, and petty larceny. When Agent Grotsky turns up out of the blue asking for her help, her self-inflicted purgatory is shattered. Grotsky is on the trail of a Miriam lookalike who is killing people in suspiciously familiar ways. But the mini-Miriam murderer isn’t the only person after our foul-mouthed antihero. An enemy from her past has risen from the grave and set their undead sights squarely on her. As her power to send her consciousness into birds grows, so too does the Trespasser’s rage. And then there’s Louis, the man she loves who is destined to do something horrible.
Death, destruction, and chaos spread out like a wake from the bad ship Miriam Black, and the ripples are almost at the shore. Someone … something wants Miriam, and it will go after each person she loves to get to her. The end of Miriam’s story is coming fast and furious, and if the previous books are any indication, it’s going to be one helluva ride. If you thought Thunderbird had a gut-punch of a cliffhanger, wait ‘til you finish The Raptor and the Wren.
Here’s what happens whenever I read a new Miriam Black book. I tell myself I’m only going to read a few chapters, that this time I’m going to ration the novel and savor each chapter like an expensive meal. And instead I end up hooked. Every. Damn. Time. It took me a grand total of a day and a half to binge Raptor, and that was as much pacing as I could handle. The first day I fell so deep into the Miriam vortex that I forgot to each lunch. The second day I skipped a work deadline because I couldn’t put it down. Yeah, it’s that intensely good.
It’s not like the series doesn’t have its issues. Its character list is dominated by people who are cis and white. The central mystery of who or what the Trespasser is and what it wants has been stretched to its limits. Yet the biggest obstacle for me is when Miriam crosses the line between being grating to downright offensive. I know, I know, she’s supposed to be offensive. She isn’t likeable or nice. She’s crass and cruel, and so is the narration. That being said, Miriam saying hurtful things about Grotsky’s weight in Raptors doesn’t add anything to the story or give us new information about either character. Miriam reconsiders her comments later, but she doesn’t really learn from her sizeism, nor is her comment invalidated by the text.
I get that there’s a difference between an asshole saying assholish things and the text mocking people for their differences, but to me it feels a little too much like punching down. Before you get out those pitchforks, I want to be clear that I don’t think Wendig himself is sizeist. I also don’t think that his intention is to make fun of fat people. However, my tolerance for harmful comments about a person’s identity has drastically been reduced in the last year (as has my tolerance for “good intentions,” but that’s another conversation). Miriam’s sizeist comments are rare in Raptor, and you may be able to look past them and all the other awful things she’s said about people in previous entries just as I once did. But right now for me personally, it’s like a piece of popcorn stuck in the back of my teeth. I don’t like it and don’t want it staining what is otherwise a thrilling series.
What Raptor does best is making place setting feel action packed. As the penultimate book in a long-ish series, stuff doesn’t so much happen as line up for the final play. Threads from earlier in the series are finally being pulled as old characters collide with each other in their quest to destroy and/or confront Miriam. The Big Bad hasn’t fully revealed itself or its motives, but the final boss fight is right around the corner.
Normally books like this where the author spends more time moving pieces around than pushing the plot forward can feel like filler. Yet Wendig is talented enough to prevent that feeling from sinking in. True, not much happens here compared to other books. The break in the frantic pace offered by Raptor gives Miriam a chance to ponder and plan. She spends most of her screentime talking to other characters and sorting out her feelings, but it still feels exciting and engaging. Miriam has grown so much since Blackbirds that readers are deeply invested in her emotional and physical well-being.
Raptor is probably the worst place to jump into the series as a newbie. Much of the pain Wendig inflicts on Miriam (and the reader) is emotional, and without reading at least the first and second books, Blackbirds and Mockingbird, you won’t have any foundation for her troubled relationship with her costar or two main antagonists. And, frankly, the third and fourth novels, The Cormorant and Thunderbird, dig into the fantasy elements – like the Trespasser, other death psychics, and her bird possession abilities—so much that skipping them does a major disservice to Raptor. I guess you could just read this novel, but I wouldn’t recommend it. Just order all five from your local library and you’ll be a lot happier.
The Miriam Black series flips between genres, blending together elements of horror, mystery, psychological thriller, and urban fantasy into something deliciously addictive. Raptors is more on the thriller/horror/dark UF bent, a novel full of sharp writing, harrowing plot and subplots, and devastating characters. The Raptor and the Wren is an heartbreaker of a book that’ll leave you gasping for breath by the final page. Bring on the finale!
The Raptor and the Wren is available January 23rd from Saga Press.
Alex Brown is a YA librarian by day, local historian by night, pop culture critic/reviewer by passion, and QWoC all the time. Keep up with her every move on Twitter, check out her endless barrage of cute rat pics on Instagram, or get lost in the rabbit warren of ships and fandoms on Tumblr.