Review: In the Shadow of Blackbirds by Cat Winters

April 8, 2013 Amulet Books, Cat Winters, Ghosts, Historical Fiction, In the Shadow of Blackbirds, Netgalley, YA, Young Adult 33

From Goodreads:

In 1918, the world seems on the verge of apocalypse. Americans roam the streets in gauze masks to ward off the deadly Spanish influenza, and the government ships young men to the front lines of a brutal war, creating an atmosphere of fear and confusion. Sixteen-year-old Mary Shelley Black watches as desperate mourners flock to séances and spirit photographers for comfort, but she herself has never believed in ghosts. During her bleakest moment, however, she’s forced to rethink her entire way of looking at life and death, for her first love—a boy who died in battle—returns in spirit form. But what does he want from her?

Featuring haunting archival early-twentieth-century photographs, this is a tense, romantic story set in a past that is eerily like our own time.
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As someone who is a little apprehensive to read Historical Fiction, I must admit this book wasn’t initially on my radar. But as reviews started to trickle in and I looked up the synopsis, I immediately knew I had to check this one out. There is just something about the agonizing despair of a ghost haunting loved ones that draws me in.

We start out by meeting our main character, Mary Shelley Black, as she travels to live with her Aunt Eva in San Diego after her father has been arrested. The Spanish Influenza is in full force, leaving friends, family and neighbors dead or dying all around them. Between the war and the flu, people have taken to spiritual photographers, desperate to see that their loved ones are still with them. One just photographer happens to be the brother of her childhood friend and love, Stephen, who is missing and seemingly dead at war.

What I found utterly fascinating was learning more about the times when the Spanish flu was so prominent. I was never a fan of history in school so I really didn’t remember the detail about the epidemic, to be honest. I will admit that there were moments I felt the story was progressing a little slower than I liked, but overall I was so enthralled with the time period and how magnificently the author was able to transport us to that time. The writing was so superb that I truly felt like I was there, amidst all of the crazy concoctions people would use in an attempt to ward off the germs and sickness. Between all of the onion soup, garlic gum, kerosene sugar cubes and sulfur, I just can’t even imagine how scary and horrible it must have been to live through this time. I found myself telling my mom all about it because I was seriously so intrigued.

But it wasn’t just about the flu that I found to be so enrapturing. It was the spirit photography. I have honestly never heard of it before. Mary Shelley does not believe in it whatsoever but finds herself involved somehow as she searches for answers about her missing beloved. When news of his death hits, Mary Shelley takes it extremely hard. After an accident almost claims her life, Stephen’s ghost seems to haunt her. He’s disturbed and in pain and she is so wanting to help free him so he can be at peace. This is something else I must commend the author for because she managed to make me feel a little frightened and creeped out but also sad and hurt for Stephen. My heart broke for the both of them to have been torn apart before they really even began. And Mary was a determined, non-nonsense kind of gal. Very strong and extremely independent for a girl of 16. But during these times, she often had no choice. She was willing to do just about anything to save her friend from the agony he finds in the afterlife.

When it was time for all to be revealed I must say parts of it I saw coming but other parts were quite a surprise. It’s disturbing and horrific in certain ways, but I found myself completely satisfied with how it all ended.

Clever, well-researched and amazing, this one comes highly recommended. I thoroughly enjoyed the addition of old photos throughout the novel as well for just that added kick to throw you back to 1918.

Sidenote: Anyone else ever get giddy when they find the title in a book? I totally did in this one and the title is so fitting, I might add. 🙂

Sara @ Forever 17 Books

33 Responses to “Review: In the Shadow of Blackbirds by Cat Winters”

  1. Emily

    Yay I’m so glad you liked this one! I really loved it and I, like you, am a bit leery of Historical Fiction. But I thought this book was really well done. And, also like you, I was completely torn apart by the fact that Stephan and Mary loved each othe so much, but could never be together. It was so sad and heartbreaking! Great review!

    Emily’s Crammed Bookshelf

  2. Mel@Thedailyprophecy

    I always love it when I come across the title in the book 😀 It makes every just fall into place. I’m very excited about this book. I hear so many good things about it and I’m a fan of reading historical fiction. Mary sounds like a girl I will really like.


  3. Becca

    I haven’t heard of this one (probably for the same reason you hadn’t at first — I’m not a big Historical Fiction person) but you made the history sound so amazing 🙂 I really love the cover, and now I’m so curious about the title. I may actually check this one out!

  4. Kristin

    I have seen so many great reviews of this one, I have tried historical fiction but, I just get bored for some reason with them but, this one is just so intriguing I might just have to try it.

    Kristin @ Young Adult Book Haven

    • Sara @ Forever 17 Books

      That’s my problem, I’m always afraid I’ll get bored. But I’ve read some really great ones so it seems silly not to be a fan. But I usually don’t go out of my way to add this genre to my TBR. It’s gotta be good! lol

  5. Hannah

    I’m reading this right now and very much enjoying it! So glad to see you loved it as well! Love reading your loverly thoughts!

    <333333 Inky

  6. Tanja - Tanychy

    This is already on my must-read list. I’ve heard only amazing thins about this one and I can’t wait to read it. I’m so happy that you enjoyed it too 🙂

  7. starryeyedjen

    I’ve got this one…why haven’t I read it yet? I love that it includes photography, like Miss Peregrine’s. And I get excited when I find the title, too! 😀

  8. Lauren

    Yay I’m so glad you enjoyed this! It’s been getting rave reviews from all my favorite blogs (this one included), so I’m thrilled to have a copy. I meant to start it this weekend, but I couldn’t get to it. Hopefully I can read it this weekend. And yes, I always get excited when I find the title in the book too 🙂 Lovely review!


    I’m happy to hear you liked this one! i’m not a big Historical fiction fan but something about this one’s kinda calling to me, and oh I know what you mean about that feeling when you find the title of a book inside the book. it’s like this amazing OMG I HAVE FOUND YOU, I AM SO HAPPY moment!
    lily @ lilysbookblog

  10. poul

    The flu and photography def add an edge to this one. I am usually not a fan of the historical fiction either, but intrigued.

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