In this quickly changing Internet-obsessed publishing market, Chuck Wendig has shown himself to be a successful and versatile writer as a game designer, a screenwriter, and as a novelist as well. He is also known for some helpful books on how to be a better writer. The man also knows what makes a good author website!
Besides his many authorial talents, I first heard about Wendig from buzz concerning his Miriam Black series and their cool covers from Angry Robot. Unfortunately, I haven’t read any of those yet. You know how it is with that “to read” pile or compiled list at Goodreads.com.
But then I saw the following blurb from Adam Christopher concerning a new upcoming book from Wendig:
The Blue Blazes is exactly my kind of supernatural mob crime novel: dark and visceral, with an everyman hero to root for and Lovecraftian god-horror to keep you awake at night… this is the good stuff, right here.
Noir-ishness and Lovecratian horror? Sold! I immediately bought my first Wendig novel and began to devour The Blue Blazes upon receiving.
This book centers upon the character Mookie Pearl, a big-fisted lug who works for a crime syndicate in modern day (or possibly near future) New York City. Mookie is not a regular wiseguy though. He mainly works in the Underworld — no, not the usual euphemism for organized crime. Mookie works in the Underworld: a place crawling with the undead and monsters, some of which have come in contact with the regular world, though often staying down in the tunnels and caves below New York.
Though Mookie is built like a tank, he also has access to a special underworld drug called “blue blazes” — a blue powder that, when rubbed on one’s temples, turns you into something of a superhuman. Given Mookie’s build, it seems to turn him into a non-green version of The Incredible Hulk.
Technically, Mookie is a professional criminal; yet he’s a very sympathetic character in that he mainly fights monsters, such as ghouls and even meaner people than himself from other gangs or crime organizations. Much of this book is centered upon him trying to keep his daughter from following in his crime footsteps, as well as Mookie’s continued guilt concerning the neglect of his family. In short, Wendig does an admirable job at character development. Though this is a fun book, his characters do not strike you as cardboard cutouts.
That being said, The Blue Blazes is non-stop fun and action. There are fights aplenty! Shoot-em-ups! Chase scenes! Goblins, demons, half-demon-satyr-like beings, and zombies!
There is some mystery and intrigue, and a few surprising twists that I did not see coming. This is a highly entertaining book, full of energy and verve. My description may sound like Wendig has thrown in everything but the kitchen sink. So it may be helpful to say what The Blue Blazes is not.
One, this book is not a horror story, not really. There are a lot of monstrous entities that make an appearance and there are a few chills. But overall — and no offense to Adam Christopher and his take above — I think there’s little to keep one up at night here. The monsters and ghastly creatures serve to bring tension to the story, which they do well. But they do not really horrify in the traditional sense of the word.
Two, this book is not a hard crime or gangster story. Again, there are many of the tropes and window dressing from that genre. But at the end of the day, The Blue Blazes is more of a fun bash than anything I can think of from the noir or hard crime side of things.
Three, though Wendig treats his characters with seriousness and goes to lengths to develop them beyond being simply weapon-wielding psychopaths or drugged-up wiseguys, the fun nature of this book makes it so that — at least I find — the characters, and the story, can’t really be taken all that seriously. And perhaps this might be taken as something of a small criticism.
I once heard editor Ross Lockhart say that many of the stories from new writers that he reads nowadays read more like movie screenplays. I think Lockhart meant this comment as a criticism, that new authors are more concerned about selling the movie rights to a story as opposed to just focusing upon making a good story. Reading Wendig’s The Blue Blazes, I can kind of see his point. This book fits the movie screenplay description well. You can easily picture this book as you read — it’s highly cinematic with its hooks and cliff hanging scene changes, the sort of things you see in Hollywood blockbusters all of the time.
However, I’m not quite sure that’s a criticism Wendig should be worried about. I took The Blue Blazes to just be a fun ride. Yeah it’s a bit ridiculous and over-the-top in various places. But if you don’t go into it with any more expectations than a fun and engaging urban fantasy, I think you can enjoy it for all its worth.
One reviewer has described Wendig’s writing in the following way: “Balls-to-the-wall, take-no-prisoners storytelling at its best.” If you go into The Blue Blazes with that sort of fun attitude, you’ll come out the other side having enjoyed a great SF&F romp.