Everything has been building up to this. Miriam is pregnant and isn’t particularly excited about it. The man she loved is dead, murdered by someone she cared for. The woman she loves has a rapidly approaching expiration date. The feds are onto her. And the Trespasser is circling like a vulture over its prey. Miriam is beaten but not broken, but for the Trespasser it’s only a matter of time until she snaps. The Trespasser can wait; it has all the time in the world. Miriam doesn’t. Her time is quickly running out and when it finally does…
After the events of The Raptor and the Wren, Miriam discovers three things: the Trespasser can inhabit people and convince them to do terrible things, she’s knocked up, and the baby will die before taking its first breath. Needing some stability after the decimation of the only good period of her life, Miriam seeks out Gabby. They can never go back to what they once were, but maybe they can be something else. Something better?
With no other options and two fragile lives depending on her, Miriam takes a gig with the FBI to help a stressed out agent track down a brutal serial killer. Of course, since this is Miriam we’re talking about, she screws up big time and ruins everything with her vulgar language and shady instincts. Screwing up is basically Miriam’s raison d’être. Might as well get it tattooed on her face at this rate. With the Trespasser lurking in the shadows and the bodies piling up, it’s going to be very, very, very bad for her when everything crashes into her all at once. There is no way out for our whiskey-deprived antihero. But when has that ever stopped her from trying?
Like an artist working with found objects, Chuck Wendig gathers bits and pieces from the previous five books and welds them together into something haunting and eviscerating in the sixth. Miriam is hunting a psychotic serial killer and trailing after an enigmatic psychic. She meets others with “gifts” who blur the line between using their talents for good or ill, and gathers some new wisdom about this deadly world of magic that she can fashion into a weapon to use against her enemies. She’s pregnant again and the baby is destined to die just as the first did. Someone she cares deeply for is with her but has one foot out the door.
Everything seems familiar, but the pattern is off. No, not off. New. Different. A twist on the old. Vultures isn’t a rehash of the rest of the series but a shattering of everything you thought you knew. It’s one of the things I love best about Chuck Wendig’s writing, how he presents a situation according to your expectations then shifts the plot juuuuuuust so and suddenly the story has slipped through your fingers and slapped you in the face.
From Blackbirds to Vultures, Wendig tells an epic horror-stained fantasy that’s as visceral and aching as a black eye, as disconcerting and salty as the taste of blood. There has never been anyone quite like Miriam Black and never will again. She is one of a kind. In the past, Miriam had no filter—whatever popped into her filthy mind spilled right out her vicious mouth. By Vultures she’s learned that there’s a cost to speaking her barbwire-version of the facts. She’s spent years building walls and fences and moats around her heart, and now she’s understanding how unsustainable that is. As much as she says she wants to be alone, that’s not entirely truth.
What she doesn’t want is to be beholden to anyone or forced to become someone she doesn’t want to be. However, deep down, she craves being seen as the truest version of herself and accepted for who she is. Miriam plays the part of the crass vulgarian, but underneath the cigarette smoke, course language, and indifferent attitude is a thick layer of perspicacity. She knows exactly what the world is and how to see beneath its own distracting armor.
So much effort to craft a glitzy lie.
Though, she thinks, that’s the thing about lies, isn’t it? The truth requires only itself, but a lie always needs infrastructure. It needs support. It needs other lies to hold it up, a realm of artifice to keep it running. It’s why lying is so much goddamn work: you often have to craft an entire fantasy realm just to convince somebody of a single untrue thing.
Truth can be truth alone. But a lie always needs architecture.
As I’ve said since the beginning, Miriam Black would make for a killer (ha!) television series. Let a streaming site or prestige cable channel throw a pile of cash at it and you’ve a guaranteed hit on your hands. Look, we’ve had a gajillion antihero white dudes cluttering up the small screen for years now and I’m sick to hell of ‘em. Rarely are women afforded the same opportunity—even though personally I think they do a vastly more interesting job with the role—and queer women even less often. Every studio that isn’t begging Wendig for the rights is willingly leaving money on the table. Breaking Bad, Schmaking Bad. Give me Miriam Black or give me death.
Vultures is the perfect end to Miriam’s story. It’s sprawling, wandering, violent, endearing, cruel, determined, romantic, and terrifying. It is all of Miriam’s contradictions and conflicts and controversies all bundled up into 400 pages of frantic action, knife-sharp plotting, and killer dialogue. I’m sad to see this series end, but what a way to go out. It’s going to be a long time before I stop thinking about Miriam Black. A long fucking time.
Vultures is available from Saga Press.
Alex Brown is a high school librarian by day, local historian by night, author and writer by passion, and an ace/aro Black woman all the time. Keep up with her every move on Twitter and Insta, or follow along with her reading adventures on her blog.