In the Shadow of Blackbirds
Author: Cat Winters
Release: April 2nd 2013
Genre: Ghosts, Paranormal, Historical, YA
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.
I kinda left this book with a feeling of "WHAT THE FUCK DID I JUST READ" and "Oh my God that was so sad WHY." I'm still a little overwhelmed, so give me a second to compose myself.
Alright. Now. This book ... it's creepy. As fuck. And confusing. Disturbing as well. But ... it's also weirdly good. I enjoyed it more than I thought I would — while the first 50 pages intrigued me, afterwards for the next around 100 pages, I was more or less bored. But, it gets more intense as the story progressed and the plot twists are sucker punches, all of them. Also, this book is unbelievably sad and grim, and even though I didn't cry, I came VERY close to it. Very.
Now, even though this book was brilliant and extremely unique, I do have a few things that irked me. First of all, if this were real life and not a novel, Mary Shelley Black would have been tied up in a straitjacket in an asylum long before page 200. Nobody would have let her go on her merry life possessed by the devil as she was, I think not even her Aunt Eva would have tolerated that. While she did try to have her committed, and showed signs of appropriate reactions to Mary Shelley's "episodes," it all seemed like it was toned down. No one was overly put out by her being able to communicate with spirits, even considering the whole spirit craze that was going on during that time. I have a hard time believing they would have just sat by and shrugged when someone said they spoke with spirits and then actually spoke but with another person's voice. It wasn't handled very well in my opinion and as a result, felt enormously awkward.
And then the constant confusion, which annoyed me to no end at first as well. Yes, I know it's supposed to create suspense and all that, but give me at least something. Throw me a bone, whatever, just don't leave me hanging like a fish on land, because in the end, the constant not knowing anything made me rather bored and not care instead of piquing my interest further. Plus, I was driven mad dying to know what I Do Not Lose Ink meant, and it wasn't revealed until the last 20 pages. But that's just something I simply wanted to point out, not criticise.
Otherwise, I really liked the novel; it certainly wasn't outstanding or anything and even though I don't have much to criticise, I still feel like I can only give this three stars. I think it's because as I said above, the confusion in the beginning made me not care a lot at first and by the time it all got much better, it was too late to properly change that. I did, however, really like Mary Shelley when she wasn't being stupid, and I especially loved how she stood up for herself all the time, she was a serious badass in that case. She called men out on their shit all the time and didn't back down. You hereby deserve the medal of best role model heroine.
Other characters were sinister, and for good reason, and I think portraying them as shady people was excellent. It all added to the mystery and made this a very obscure read. If you're into that, then this is definitely your book. There were multiple possible suspects as to who would be the villain in the end, and I think it's the most unlikely person in the end, which I loved; I never ever would have seen that one coming. Others might, I don't know, but I thought it was very clever foreshadowing. There was one character that really annoyed me though, and that Aunt Eva. I don't know why, maybe because she's always hovering and, like all the men, insisting Mary Shelley treasure her "innocent mind" or some shit like that. I just didn't really like that.
What I did like, though, was the romance. I thought Mary Shelley and Stephen really did have a genuine connection and attraction, they felt like they could really work out as a couple and over the whole novel, I so badly wished they could have a happy ending. Stephen as a character, as we get to know him during the first 100 pages, was very sweet and I instantly liked him, so neither of them weren't reduced to their relationship only, which is another bonus point.
The paranormal elements were okay, I think it could have been handled better, but Winters managed it sufficiently and satisfactorily enough. Furthermore, her history seemed to have been spot on, it felt like I was really there in the 1918s and living the total terror of that age, with WWI and the Spanish flu, which also helped to create a lot of the hopeless and gloomy atmosphere, of course. It all fit really well together and felt real. Winters definitely did her research.
My final verdict would be that fans of historical fiction, especially if you're looking for WWI fiction, would really love this, if they can handle some creepy plot that I'd even go so far as to say is reaching into the grotesque. It was most certainly something else, unlike any other YA novel I have read so far, and I'd recommend it if you are interested. You won't be wasting your time.