Review: The Blue Blazes
By Chuck Wendig
Release date: May 28, 2013
Angry Robot has been hit or miss for me, but Chuck Wendig is a hit. I guess it’s not really fair for me to single out a publisher, but they’re memorable. That is due to their tag system; the back of every book has a list of descriptions. File under Occult Underworld/Psychedelic Color Drugs/Not Your Mother’s Elektra-Complex. I made those ones up. But you get the gist. Also, this book doesn’t come out for another month, but we all need something to look forward to, right?
If you’ve read Wendig’s Miriam Black series (Blackbirds, Mockingbird), you know he can write. And you know the characters he writes aren’t really people you want to invite to your house. Wendig is gritty. His characters are damaged, not always likeable, and likely to make off with the good silver. I also want to add an “o” to the end of his name because how awesome would that be? But I digress. The Miriam Black series skirts the paranormal. For the most part, it’s the world as we know it, only with more trailer trash and serial killers than Ohio. (It’s OK, I can say that; I live in Ohio. No, I lied; it will never be OK. I live in Ohio.) In The Blue Blazes, Wendig finally takes the plunge and brings us Neverwhere‘s crackwhore stepsister with serious daddy issues. I mean that in the nicest way possible.
Mookie Pearl is a thug, an estranged father, and a soldier in the Polish mob. He likes eating meat, beating the shit out of goblins, and doing the eponymous Blue. Blue is a drug mined from the Underworld, a literal chthonic nightmare situated under NYC. It makes the user stronger, faster, and open to seeing disturbing magical things, which also come from said Underworld. The most common are goblins: primitive, man-eating, and possessing disgusting spawning habits. There are more things in the depths too, things that drive mere mortals to gibbering insanity. It’s a Lovecraftian setup with nary a “ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn.”
And then comes Nora AKA Persephone: Mookie’s dear drug-dealing daughter who has daddy-issues. She’s started a rival setup and is heading toward war with Mookie’s Polish friends. Now Mookie isn’t a total monster, he really does care about Nora. But it would be very bad if his employers found out about their relationship. Then the boss-to-be approaches Mookie about a very special mission in the Underworld… Of course, things just go to subterranean hell from there.
I enjoyed the fantasy element a lot. Wendig made very entertaining characters and factions. The potential love interest grows a little bland at parts, but Mookie and Nora set a high bar. I’m also a sucker for well-meaning but utterly dysfunctional family stories. Mookie and Nora’s relationship is not good. And they both have very good reasons to be unhappy with each other. Lister and Werth also have extremely…unhealthy but compelling relationships with Mookie. I won’t go into spoilers, but I enjoyed their interaction too.
The street gangs get a little silly (roller derby rockabilly chicks that don’t use guns are cool in theory, but not using heavier weapons makes it hard to take them seriously). The Blue Blazes has a more distinct questing element than Miriam Black. Parts of the treasure hunt feel a little too convenient, but I can suspend disbelief because of the writing. Also because Wendig throws in fun crazy shit: construction worker-warriors, zombie-towns, delicious meats… It’s gritty, but fun. Maybe a bit more uplifting than the Miram Black books; which is weird because this definitely has more disturbing imagery.
The journal entries before each chapter are a nice bit of milieu. Very Lovecraftian. I don’t think the super bad things are quite as scary as they should be, but I took this more as a dark urban fantasy romp than a horror story. The ending is a little predictable, but still satisfying.
So if you need something dark, gritty, and fun, I recommend The Blue Blazes.