The Blue Blazes by Chuck Wendig
|Book Name:||The Blue Blazes|
|Publisher(s):||Angry Robot Books|
|Formatt:||Paperback / Audio Book / eBook|
|Release Date:||May 28, 2013 (US) June 6, 2013 (UK)|
The Blue Blazes was my first exposure to Chuck Wendig’s writing outside of his blog, TerribleMinds. I expected an urban fantasy novel full of hard, broken edges and bloody knuckles. I expected Wendig’s penchant for profanity to be on display. What I didn’t expect was a moving story about family and living with the consequences of our past. Nor did I expect Wendig’s similes and metaphors to pop with color, creativity, and dare I say it, poetry. The Blue Blazes is a fun, fast-paced novel that blends the best of noir, a Dungeons & Dragons Monster Manual, and melodrama into something special.
Mookie Pearl is a beast of a man who works for The Organization. He breaks legs, collects debts, and manages the distribution of New York City’s newest drug, the eponymous Blue Blazes. It will make you feel invincible. It will rip the wool from your eyes, letting you see people as they really are and what evils lurk in the shadows. Use too much of it, and that infernal pigment will wreck you.
You see, Mookie used to work for the Sandhogs, the local union of tunnel diggers who carved out New York City’s underground. Until one day they cracked into the capital-U Underground. Some of the Sandhogs have made it their job to keep the monsters and the black magic bottled up. Not Mookie though. He abandoned the Sandhogs and abandoned his family when he waded into a life of Blue-tinted crime.
When Mookie’s daughter Nora threatens to topple The Organization and steal his business out from under him, Mookie’s loyalties will be tested. It’s just a question of how he will end up paying to make up for his past mistakes.
I particularly enjoyed Wendig’s worldbuilding. Wendig has created two richly detailed New York undergrounds: one criminal and the other chthonian. He’s populated one underground with enough colorful criminal gangs to populate a sequel to the movie The Warriors, each with their own look, modus operandi, and patois. And the other is filled with monsters, gods, and every nightmare that has hidden under your bed.
While a lesser writer’s characters would be nothing more than noir and fantasy stereotypes—Mookie as the hard-fisted and hard-headed muscle or Nora as the bad girl with daddy issues—Wendig rises above that temptation and subverts these stereotypes, elevating his characters to a level that is more complex. And the story is more compelling when those characters are put under extreme and terrible pressures.
As mentioned above, I was impressed with Wendig’s writing. Yes, there is profanity and violence. And yes, it is graphic at times. But what really caught my attention were Wendig’s similes and metaphors. Although clever turns of phrase are a staple of noir stories, I thought Wendig’s did more than add color or punch up the story. They were startling, acute, and original.
I also enjoyed the passages from John Atticus Oakes’s journal of the Underworld that began every chapter. The tone and style were so different from the rest of the story, and the snippets had their own arc that was just as interesting as that of the other characters. Unfortunately, those passages also spoil one of the book’s plot points, undercutting the impact of that moment. Although some other bits of the story are predictable, I think there are enough surprises and interesting moments that readers will still be entertained.
My only other complaint is the fault of my ereader. It’s a bit outdated, so I couldn’t take in all the minute details hidden in The Blue Blazes cover art. Created by Joey Hi-Fi, the cover art really needs to be appreciated up close and in color—twice: once before you start reading, and once you’ve finished the book.
The Blue Blazes is a very enjoyable read, and a great entry into the world of Chuck Wendig. There is the possibility that this will be the first in a Mookie Pearl series. I sincerely hope so. I would love to return to this world. In the meantime, I’ll have to check out Wendig’s Miriam Black books.
Check back next week for our interview with Mr. Wendig.