The Blue Blazes by Chuck Wendig – Advance Review [Shadowhawk]
Shadowhawk reviews Chuck Wendig’s soon-to-be-released new urban fantasy novel from Angry Robot.
“Gritty, visceral, emotional, and damn good fun. These are the words I’d use to describe the novel. Its not a book for the faint-hearted!” ~The Founding Fields
Chuck Wendig is one of those authors I’ve been wanting to read for a good long while, ever since I came across his blog last year. His books certainly have a very interesting concept and he appears to be a prolific writer, so its not like there’s a dearth of reading material when it comes to him. Getting around to his upcoming novel, The Blue Blazes, to be released in just 5 days, took some time and also a fair bit of determination. I’d tried to read his first Miriam Black novel Blackbirds, also from Angry Robot, last year, but just couldn’t get into it at all, so gave up on it after about 15 or so pages. Having read The Blue Blazes, I’m really glad that It took the plunge, and if Angry Robot gets around to putting out a sequel, I’ll be lining up to read it.
The Blue Blazes presents New York within an urban fantasy light, a city where supernatural forces of all types co-exist, although not with any kind of love between them. There’s also a gateway to hell/the underworld right beneath the city, and so Chuck Wendig sets the stage for a rather involved and engaging novel about one man’s quest to salvage his tenuous relationship with his daughter, save the world, and do what he does best: bash heads to a pulp in his role as an enforcer for a New York crime family.
Mookie Pearl is one of those characters who evoke sympathy from the reader from the get go. The universe is always out to take a dump on him and his life, screwing up all the good things he does, and not giving him a break at all. Hour to hour, day to day, that’s Mookie’s life. With an estranged daughter who is trying to take down all the crime families and gang in the city, his bosses who have little trust in him, a suspicious long-time ally, and loads of suspicious supernatural events happening all over, there is no time for Mookie to take a step back and evaluate where he is at in life. And yet, he is someone who never gives up, who keeps going because he is committed to making things right and doing his job the way it is to be done.
Over the course of the novel, Chuck Wendig does a great job at getting into Mookie’s head and giving the reader the grand tour of the place.
Mookie is not the only POV character in the book however. His daughter Nora, a rebellious teenager who hates his guts and wants to bring him down no matter the cost, also has quite a few scenes to herself. The contrasts between Mookie and Nora are numerous. Nora is rash, always thinking on her feet, and acting instead of reacting. The familial tension between daughter and father is explored in a lot of detail and the resolution is something that I did not expect. It was one of those surprise endings that leave you with your jaw hanging four feet below where it should be.
Another thing is that Wendig makes Nora about more than her estranged relationship with her father. Female characters in SFF who can stand their own against their male counterparts, especially as integral characters, are sadly not as common as we’d like them to be. Which is where Nora steps in, and challenges all perceptions about who and what she is. As I’ve said, within the narrative, she’s an actor and not a reactor, and for me this makes her into a very vital character, someone who packs a wallop of character-agency. Her scenes in The Blue Blazes are some of the highlights of the novel.
There are a bunch of secondary characters in the novel, such as the villains and some allies of both Mookie and Nora, and together, they provide the novel with a really rich cast of characters, each with their own motivations and fears and attitudes and behaviours. In particular, I’d give a shoutout to Skelly, a “friend” of Nora’s, and Ernesto, one of the key villains in the novel. They are two minor characters who kept surprising me throughout the novel, due to the direction that their character arcs would take and the revelations that would follow. In those two, Chuck Wendig has a perfect pair of characters who do a great job of supporting the main cast and enhancing the reading experience.
And finally, there’s Wendig’s world-building and pacing. On both counts, Wendig has done admirably in creating this new setting and giving readers the grand tour through it. There are a lot of facets to the setting and it is one that is inclusive of other religions as well. Particularly, there are some sly mentions of the New York Underworld existing in other places around the globe and being known by the local names. IIRC, he does mention India as well, which was a huge moment for me! Urban Fantasy novels with a religious bent (no matter how slight) often overlook this inclusive aspect and tell things as if the American vibe is all that matters. The variety of urban fantasy elements, combined with crime, drugs, supernatural gang warfare, etc is just astounding and I’m really surprised that Chuck Wendig managed to pull it off as well as he did.
However, despite everything, I did have some issues with the novel. The relationship between Nora and Mookie is developed far too slowly for my liking. Wendig dances around that topic a little too much, giving hints and such early on but never giving any relevant details. Then, there’s the fact that sometime his writing just seemed really…. weird. The sentence construction in a few places gave me pause and made me reread the relevant sections multiple times, negatively impacting my reading experience since I don’t like to have to pause in the middle of the book in this manner.
And then, the concept of the mysterious, all-powerful drugs, such as the Red Rage (somewhat rare) and the Blue Blazes (kind of really common) isn’t explored all that much, except when the immediate demands of the narrative require it. The concept in and of itself is brilliant, and I would have liked to learn more about them. Although, to be fair, there’s a particular scene involving the Red Rage towards the end that I really, really liked and it makes up for this deficiency. Almost.
As a complete package, The Blue Blazes is definitely a novel that I’d recommend to readers.