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Literature / Miriam Black

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Miriam Black knows how you're going to die.

"I'm young but I'm tired. I close my eyes at night, and it's like — my dreams are like a boat anchor, man. The things I see. It's like, it's not just the traumatic deaths — the car crashes and fires and stabbings. It's the slow deaths. AIDS and diabetes and kidney failure and liver failure and kid's cancer and rectal cancer and breast cancer and cancer cancer cancer. And did I mention cancer? People just lie there. Disease leaching everything out of them the way I'm sucking on this cigarette. Whittling them down. A stick into splinters. And I can't stop it. I can't stop any of it. I have no idea how to change it for people."
Miriam Black, from The Cormorant

Miriam Black is the protagonist of a series of urban fantasy/horror novels written by Chuck Wendig.

Miriam is no stranger to death. Possessing a unique ability to foresee a person's death just by touching them once, she's borne witness to more than her fair share of hospitals, car accidents, and other more horrific ways to die. But even for her, murder is a rarity. And when she witnesses that of truck driver Louis Darling, she is stunned to find out not only that he will die very gruesomely, but he will call out her name right before he is killed.

Over the years, Miriam has learned the hard way that what fate wants, fate gets. No matter how hard she tries, she just can't do anything to stop people from dying. But events conspire against her to make sure that if she wants to go on living, she just might have to try one more time and attempt to save Louis from his horrifying fate.


The series is comprised of the following novels:

  • Blackbirds (April 2012)
  • Mockingbird (September 2012)
  • The Cormorant (January 2014)
  • Thunderbird (March 2017)
  • The Raptor & The Wren (January 2018)
  • Vultures (January 2019)

A live-action adaptation of Blackbirds was considered by Starz, but eventually dropped.

This series provides examples of the following tropes:

  • Abusive Parents: Of the emotionally abusive kind: Miriam was raised by a very strict fundamentalist single mother.
  • Anachronic Order: Along with the main plot lines, the novels include several flashbacks to Miriam's childhood, as well as to other events which put the present story in context.
  • An Arm and a Leg: In their first meeting in Blackbirds, Miriam envisions Ashley at eighty years old, having lost his left foot sometime after they meet. It's cut off later in the novel by Ingersoll.
  • Animal Motifs: The mythology of each novel's titular bird relates in some way to the story within.
    • Blackbirds: Renowned in mythology as psychopomps, beings which transport the souls of the dead to the afterlife. Throughout the novel, Miriam sees herself as nothing more than a witness to death, with no real power over fate.
    • Mockingbird: A bird with no song of its own; only able to "mock" those of others. The Caldecotts are capable of imitating other voices. Also prominently featured in this novel is the swallow, known for its inability to sing, and according to Greek mythology, was created when the gods took pity on a princess who had her tongue cut off by a vengeful lover and turned her into a bird. The antagonists' victims all had their tongues cut off after being decapitated.
    • The Cormorant: A symbol of greed and overindulgence. Ashley Gaynes returns to haunt Miriam once more, this time with a psychic ability of his own, and he is apparently Drunk with Power.
    • Thunderbird: A powerful mythological creature, considered an enforcer of morality, one with control over life and death, sometimes depicted as a shapeshifter. Miriam's ability to transfer her consciousness to birds plays a much more prominent role throughout the novel.
  • Apocalyptic Log: Miriam's diary in Blackbirds is intended to be one in the making. After Harriet intuits her true intentions and later tries to convince her to go through with her plans, Miriam changes her mind out of spite.
  • Arc Words:
    • "It is what it is", a phrase Miriam says her mother repeated often.
    • "What fate wants, fate gets" summarizes Miriam's fatalistic attitude throughout Blackbirds.
    • "The river is rising": The Trespasser's warnings to Miriam in Mockingbird often ended with this phrase.
    • "The coming storm" in Thunderbird.
  • Balancing Death's Books: In order to save someone from death, Miriam must take someone's life.
  • Big, Screwed-Up Family: The Caldecotts in Mockingbird.
  • Blessed with Suck: Given the crowded world we live in, you make physical contact with a significant amount of strangers every day without intending to, or even thinking about it. Now imagine that for every single time your skin touches someone else's for the first time, you're treated to a vision of said someone's death. You can't shut it out, you can't stop it halfway, and you can't control or even know how long the vision will last. Got that? Now try making friends with people whose deaths you already know—particularly when they're much closer to it than they realize. Is your entire relationship going to be about trying to help them escape their fate, or will you choose to feign ignorance, try to act casual, never bring it up, and pretend that that vision isn't haunting you and playing in your mind's eye every time you look at that person?
  • Body Surf: A cross-species example: Miriam learns to possess a nearby bird's body late in Mockingbird, and uses this power twice in The Cormorant.
  • Breaking Speech: The main antagonists of each of the novels gives at least one of these to Miriam. Harriet's in Blackbirds is notable particularly due to her guessing correctly that Miriam intended to kill herself once her diary ran out of pages.
  • Brick Joke: A chapter in Blackbirds is titled "The Sun Can Go Fuck Itself", followed by "The Sunshine Café Can Go Fuck Itself Equally". The plot of The Cormorant takes Miriam to Florida, and one chapter is accordingly titled "The Sunshine State Can Go Fuck Itself".
  • Broken Bird: Miriam — no pun intended.
  • Call-Back: Ashley in The Cormorant recalls line-for-line the joke he and Miriam shared back when they first met in Blackbirds before he beats her unconscious.
  • Chekhov's Skill: Miriam's ability to control birds, introduced back in Mockingbird, becomes the only way to defeat Ashley and his new-found powers at the end of The Cormorant.
  • Cliffhanger: Thunderbird ends with the dying vision of Louis's fiancée Samantha: drowned to death in a bathtub nine months later — by Louis himself.
  • Combat Pragmatist: Miriam, Ashley, Beck Daniels — pretty much everyone caught in a fight in the series. Harriet is closer to a Torture Technician.
  • Conflict Killer: The arrival of Harriet and Frankie interrupts Miriam and Ashley's very uneasy partnership, as well as introduces Louis's future killer, Ingersoll to Miriam.
  • Cosmic Plaything: Miriam sees herself as this, especially after she saves Louis and is branded as "fate's foe" by The Trespasser.
  • Country Matters: Just one of many profanities thrown around throughout the novels.
    Ashley: You are one crafty little cunt, aren't you?
    Miriam: Nice. You go down on your mother with that mouth?
  • Crazy Cat Lady: Harriet tells Frankie the story of one that used to live in her neighborhood. The lady died inside her house, and as the cats inside went hungry, they eventually turned to her corpse for food. Those cats lived on and even reproduced, and it was only later that someone decided to burn the house down with all the cats inside it.
  • Dark and Troubled Past: In this series, this is a prerequisite for gaining psychic powers. In Miriam's case, the father of her unborn child committed suicide after she dumped him, and his mother took it out on her by beating her with a red snow shovel, killing the child inside her womb.
  • Death by Sex: Gabby, Miriam's female one-night stand in The Cormorant, becomes one of Ashley's targets to get to Miriam. In a twist, Ashley just mutilates her face rather than kill her outright, but based on Miriam's vision, her subsequent depression would eventually drive her to kill herself years later.
  • Deus ex Machina/11th-Hour Superpower: Just as Miriam is helpless and about to be executed in Mockingbird, The Trespasser suddenly shows her a new ability: to possess, and control birds.
  • Driven to Suicide: Ben Hodge, the boy Miriam lost her virginity to, killed himself after Miriam dumped him in a very cruel fashion. Miriam herself almost came close to this trope as well, until she realized that Harriet was waiting for her to do so on the other side of the door.
  • Equivalent Exchange: By saving Louis from his preordained death, Miriam realizes that the only way to save a life is to take another in its place.
    • Thunderbird reveals how Miriam obtained her power: The murder of her unborn child made her invisible to Death. At the end of the novel, Mary Stitch tells Miriam the way for her to undo her curse: bear a new child.
  • Eye Scream: In Miriam's vision, Louis gets stabbed in one eye with a rusty fishing knife, and is killed by another stab to the remaining eye that pierces all the way to his brain. At the end of Blackbirds, Miriam manages to save his life, but not his left eye.
  • The Fatalist: Due to several failed attempts to save people from deaths she's foreseen (and particularly cases where her attempt actually caused the deaths to happen), Miriam has become this.
  • The Fettered: Though she has witnessed countless deaths, Miriam has never directly killed anybody (though there was this old guy so overdosed on ED pills that Miriam flashing one breast gave him a heart attack). After killing the Caldecotts, particularly a defenseless Edwin at the end of Mockingbird, she begins to see herself as a killer.
  • Foil: Ashley to Miriam. Whereas Miriam is still burdened by her conscience, Ashley has no such qualms. She has power but doesn't seek to benefit (much) from it; he has none but will take every opportunity to gain some.
  • Fortune Teller: One that Miriam tries to consult in Blackbirds freaks out after witnessing a horrific vision from touching Miriam.
    Miss Nancy: What are you?
    Miriam: What? What do you mean?
    Miss Nancy: Something dead is inside you. A deep, black, shriveled thing, and it's crying out like a lost child for its mother. You are the hand of death. You are its mechanism. I can hear the wheel turning, the pulleys pulling. (throws Miriam's money back at her) Take it. I don't want your blood money. Death is following you, and you've got some monster — some presence — inside your heart and mind. I don't want any part of it.
  • Friend on the Force: Miriam eventually finds one after The Cormorant in FBI Agent Grosky.
  • The Gadfly: Miriam has a tendency for some very cruel snark even if unprovoked.
  • Good Is Not Nice/Dark Is Not Evil: Miriam is the furthest thing from nice, and she barely even fits the "good" part. That said, she'd rather be left alone, though given an opportunity, she is capable of doing the right thing.
  • Huge Guy, Tiny Girl: Louis and Miriam.
  • Idiosyncratic Cover Art: The covers of the novels, courtesy of Joey HiFi, not only depict Miriam and a hell of a lot of birds, but also some details relevant to the stories themselves, like lighthouses, road or motel signs, etc. As of Thunderbird, the book covers are now made by Adam Doyle, and no longer follow the original motif of the first three books.
  • I Have Your Wife/It's Personal: In The Cormorant, the one that Miriam has to save from an already-preordained death is her mother.
  • I Just Want to Be Normal: At the end of The Cormorant, Miriam gets a lead on somebody in Colorado who can take away her ability.
  • Immune to Fate: Miriam may be privy to the deaths of everyone that she touches, but her own demise is a mystery to her. Her plan to kill herself was described by Harriet as an attempt to at least have one death within her control. Also, once a person has been saved from their fate, Miriam can no longer see how they die. And as seen in Mockingbird, Miriam's powers don't work on fellow tactile seer Eleanor Caldecott, and vice-versa.
  • In Medias Res: The Cormorant begins with Miriam held captive by two FBI agents. The events of the novel are then narrated as she is being interrogated.
  • Ironic Nursery Tune: "Wicked Polly" from Mockingbird, which the killer would sing before decapitating his victims.
  • Knight of Cerebus: In Blackbirds, once Ingersoll is formally introduced to Miriam, the story takes a much darker tone as it hammers home to Miriam the imminence of Louis's envisioned murder.
  • Knight Templar/Omniscient Morality License: Eleanor Caldecott claims to have the ability to witness one life's ripple effects on others, and targets the most potentially destructive students in her school to be executed by her husband and sons. She is firm in her belief that it is the purpose for which she was given that power.
  • Macguffin Girl: Mary Stitch/Scissors in Thunderbird, whom Miriam believes has the means to take away her visions.
  • Morality Pet: Louis for Miriam, especially after she saves his life and he attempts to keep her destructive habits in check. After The Cormorant, Gabby takes on this role.
  • Motor Mouth: Miriam loves to hear herself talk.
  • Must Have Nicotine: Miriam is a compulsive smoker. As of Thunderbird, however, she's trying to quit cold turkey.
  • My Greatest Failure: Miriam's is Austin, a nine-year-old who died on his birthday — in fact, the very same day that she foresaw it too. Miriam tried desperately to save him by attempting to get a cop involved, but the ensuing misunderstandings and forced explanations caused her to lose sight of the boy and be left watching helplessly as he got run over. Ever since, her nightmares would feature a red Mylar balloon, the object which drove him to run to the middle of the road.
  • Nice Guy: Louis, who remains very understanding of Miriam despite all her craziness.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Before saving Louis, whenever Miriam would try to save somebody, she would end up causing their deaths, the most notable instance of which is the one described in My Greatest Failure above.
  • Nightmare Sequence: Try bearing witness to hundreds of deaths and see if that doesn't give you any nightmares. Several chapters throughout the novels have Miriam in the throes of some horrific dreams, most of them courtesy of the ghost of the not-yet-dead Louis, an entity that Miriam later labels "The Trespasser".
  • Non Sequitur, *Thud*: Harriet blurts out "Carpet noodle" before falling to the floor after Miriam shoots her in the head.
  • Not So Omniscient After All: In The Cormorant, the main antagonist is Ashley Gaynes, who has gained the power to foresee peoples' actions. However, he can't foresee those of animals. And Miriam just happens to be able to control birds...
  • Once A Book:
    • Miriam dyes her hair a different color.
    • A serial killer is the main antagonist.
    • Miriam is caught by said killer or their goons and gets beaten up severely.
  • One-Man Army: In the climax of Thunderbird, Miriam gets a taste of this with her ability to control birds being enhanced on a large-enough scale that she can take on The Coming Storm all by herself.
  • Parental Issues: Miriam has a lot of these from having grown up in a very repressed, fundamentalist household.
  • Phony Psychic: Ingersoll, the grandson of a real psychic. Though it's possible that Ingersoll may have simply over-idealized his grandmother.
  • Pitbull Dates Puppy: Miriam and Louis.
  • Powers That Be: Miriam is caught in the crossfire between the forces of fate and those of free will and chaos. The Trespasser believes in free will, which is why it incessantly hounds Miriam and gives her a purpose for her ability.
  • Psycho for Hire: Harriet, one of Ingersoll's employees, is a very brutal, almost sadistic, woman.
  • Punch-Clock Villain: Frankie, Harriet's partner. Once Miriam tells him that he will be a grandfather by the time of his fated death, he immediately lets Miriam get to Ingersoll, and even vouches for her later in The Cormorant to save her from Tap-Tap.
  • Rape as Backstory: Eleanor gained her powers after being raped by Carl Keener.
  • Rescue Romance: Miriam and Louis.
  • Screw Destiny: Saving Louis shows Miriam that there is a way to subvert her visions. Deconstructed in Mockingbird, with Eleanor Caldecott killing off girls whom she foresees are predestined to ruin many more lives.
  • Seers: Several examples in this series:
    • Miriam, obviously, who foresees peoples' deaths specifically.
    • "Miss Nancy", the psychic Miriam hires in Blackbirds trying to figure out more about her power. It's not entirely clarified what her specific kind of foresight is, but she reacts to Miriam with horror and gives her a very ominous warning.
    • Ingersoll's oma (grandmother), though most of it is based on Ingersoll's personal experience.
    • Eleanor Caldecott, who says that she can foresee how a person's life will induce Disaster Dominoes on many others, and so takes it upon herself to snuff them out before it happens.
    • Ashley Gaynes as of The Cormorant, whose ability veers into Story-Breaker Power territory, being granted the ability to foresee the actions of any human being.
    • Sugar, who helps people in two ways: reveals the location of an object they're looking for, as well as that of something that they aren't currently aware of but will be needing at some point in their future.
    • Karen Key, who can read minds even without having to touch a person.
    • David, a Living Lie Detector.
    • Mary Scissors, who says she can see weaknesses — whether in people, structures, or even organizations. Somehow, she also knows how to undo Miriam's power.
  • Lady Swears-a-Lot: Miriam.
  • Sliding Scale of Free Will vs. Fate: Starts out at "Because Destiny Says So", then moves on to "Fighting Fate is Hard" from the end of Blackbirds onward.
  • The Snark Knight: Miriam is one hell of a snarker, but is also dealing with a lot of issues, and severely jaded from all the death she's seen.
    Beck Daniels: Always quick with the wit. It's your defense, isn't it? Little girl doesn't want the world to know how sad she is, how damaged. Your words, your attitude, all a big misdirection. A magician's trick.
  • Sophisticated as Hell: Miriam can be quite eloquent and creative when it comes to insulting people.
  • Spider-Sense: Ashley as of The Cormorant has gained the ability to anticipate the actions of people, and outwits Miriam at every turn, to the point that she can only watch as her mother is about to be murdered by him.
  • Story-Breaker Power: As of The Cormorant, Ashley Gaynes, who foresees people's actions. However, animals remain unpredictable to him.
    • In Thunderbird, Miriam's bird-control abilities grow exponentially near the climax of the story. However, Ofelia's pleasure-inducing ability disrupts her focus and breaks her control over the birds.
  • The Tape Knew You Would Say That: One of the many ways Ashley makes use of his new-found power. Miriam's visions even feature Ashley intentionally taunting her bearing witness in the past before murdering his victim. The most extreme example of this is the vision of Miriam's mother's death, where Ashley talks to both Present!Miriam (who's watching helplessly) and Past!Miriam (witnessing it through her power).
  • Those Two Guys: Harriet & Frankie from Blackbirds, Sims and Horvath from Mockingbird, Grosky and Vills from The Cormorant, David and Ofelia in Thunderbird.
  • The Topic of Cancer: Turns up a lot. See the page quote.
  • Touch of Death: Isaiah uses his power to kill Ethan Key at the end of Thunderbird.
  • Traumatic Superpower Awakening: See Dark and Troubled Past above.
  • Two-Part Trilogy: With six books in total, the series is definitely this.
  • The Unfettered: Ashley, a con-man who will take advantage of anyone and everyone he meets without a second thought. Harriet also describes herself as this in comparison to Miriam. Miriam herself has become this by The Cormorant.
  • Unhappy Medium: Miriam hates her power. In contrast, the antagonists with psychic powers themselves are a lot less unhappy.
  • Urban Fantasy
  • Wham Line: Toward the end of Blackbirds:
    Ashley: The trucker. Louis. I hid it [Ingersoll's case] in his truck.
  • Wicked Cultured: Eleanor Caldecott from Mockingbird.
  • Year Inside, Hour Outside: Miriam's visions vastly vary in length and detail, yet as far as the subject of the vision is concerned, Miriam most probably may have just lightly brushed her finger on their skin, or bumped into them unintentionally.
  • You Can't Fight Fate: Miriam believes this until she manages to save Louis from getting murdered.