Early Book Review: In the Shadow of Blackbirds by Cat Winters

In the Shadow of Blackbirds by Cat Winters is a historical fiction novel for young adults and adults. It is scheduled for release on April 2 2013. The story is set in 1918, when the mood in the United States was particularly morbid. the world was deep in a world war and the Spanish influenza is killing those fighting and those waiting at home. With this backdrop, we met sixteen year old Mary Shelley Black, who is deeply interested in science and annoyed at those using the atmosphere to fleece the desperate mourners looking hope answers, and for hope. When her father is sent to prison for treason, Mary is sent to live with her aunt, and given the chance to reconnect with an old friend and his family. Unfortunately, all she discovers there is more tragedy, questions that need answers, and a terrifying series of encounters with both the living,and the dead.

In 1918, the world seems on the verge of apocalypse. People roam the streets in gauze masks to protect against the Spanish flu, a all able bodied men are being shipped off to war, and those left behind are doing everything to avoid the suspicion that they might hold traitorous thoughts.  Sixteen-year-old Mary Shelley Black watches as desperate mourners flock to séances and spirit photographers for comfort, including the door of her friend Stephen and his unscrupulous brother Julius. Mary is skeptical of all the ideas around surging popularity of spiritualism, although her Aunt Evie is much more willing to believe. When tragedy seems to befall Stephan, Mary's life becomes even darker, and the mystery surrounding Stephan's last weeks becomes foremost in her mind, only partially because of paranormal activity. The atmosphere and the action are both very dark, and moments will startle most readers, even when they think they already expected the worst. Be ready to be angered, saddened, and occasionally seriously creeped out as you read. I know I held my breath more than once waiting to see just what would happen next.

The historical aspect of In the Shadow of Blackbirds is haunting, and Winter's story only makes it more so. I thought I already knew about the atmosphere of the country due to the stresses of war, but was unaware of the deep set paranoia and the huge impact of the Spanish Influenza. I knew it had happened, but reading about the deep uncertainty about living through the night because of illness on top of the worries about those over seas and the impact of the war on the world made for a confused and scared populous. It is no wonder that spiritualism was so popular, and that otherwise intelligent people would believe obvious fraud, not just well done hoaxes. The book uses archival early-twentieth-century photographs, to bring readers even closer to understanding the time and feeling the atmosphere.

In the Shadow of Blackbirds is a haunting story full of history and suspense. I was not prepared for the depth and darkness in the book, but found myself deeply engrossed in the world of Mary Shelley Black. It was a phenomenal read, and I am glad that I read it. I would recommend this book to young adults and adults, but think that those easily upset might want to skip it. There is no glossing over about what trench warfare for our men was like, the emotional and physical scars they might have come home with (if they were able to come home), the death at home because of the flu, and the opium addiction problems of the day. The atmosphere and story are dark, but extremely well written. Read the book, but be prepared to follow it up with something light and fun to life your spirits when you are done.
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