Book Review: In the Shadow of Blackbirds by Cat Winters

In the Shadow of BlackbirdsTitle: In the Shadow of Blackbirds

Author: Cat Winters

Genre: YA, Historical Fiction

Publisher: Harry N. Abrams

Series: None. Standalone.

Release Date: October 7, 2014

Source: Borrowed from the library

Alright ya’ll, my Cat Winters obsession continues! Again, gird your loins, because this was FANTASTIC. I couldn’t believe that this was her debut novel! This was so great, so just stick with me because there is a TON to cover. Here is your synopsis from Amazon:

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. At 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-20th-century photographs, this is a tense, romantic story set in a past that is eerily like our own time.
1. This was again, a huge testament to early feminism in the early 20th century.
So, if you read my review of The Cure for Dreaming, you know how much I fell in love with Cat Winters. The feminism in that novel was potent, while in this novel, it was a little more undercover. Our main character, Mary Shelley Black, is smart. She is crazy smart. She likes to take machines apart and put them back together, she likes to read, and she values her mind. One quote that stuck out to me was in the beginning, on page 19: “‘Why can’t a girl be smart without it being explained away as a rare supernatural phenomenon?'” YOU GO, GIRL. Everyone in this book underestimates Mary Shelley, and they always get their just desserts for doing so.
2. The pictures riddled throughout this book are so super creepy!
You may judge me for this, but I didn’t notice the spirit over Mary Shelley’s shoulder until it was actually mentioned in the book. Riddled through the book are pictures from that year – 1918. There are people in flu masks (that was the year the Spanish influenza broke out), people lifting coffins draped in American flags (this was also during World War I), and strange spirit photography relationships. This novel focuses on those three things. It’s jarring to be immersed in the fears of the time, then see actual photos. It makes everything seem so REAL. A lot of the time, when I’m reading historical fiction, I feel so disconnected from the time, like it’s not partly factual. These pictures changed all of that. Yes, they could be doctored, but I don’t want to believe that. *covers ears and hums at the naysayers*
3. This book is seriously creepy, especially if you’re scared of the possibility of ghosts.
As a slight nonbeliever in spirits, this book still freaked me out. I was honestly kind of bored with this until page 116. Then stuff got…insanely creepy and crazy and odd. Mary Shelley tries to kill herself. This is no spoiler, so don’t yell at me! She gets herself struck by lightning (because she’s smart and knows how to do so), but puts her soul back into her own body. After this, she is highly tuned in to spirit activity – especially for a specific boy. After she comes back to life, the whole story takes a turn for the strange, in a completely incredible way. If you’re scared of ghosts, or creeped easily, do NOT read this book in the dark.
4. It was extremely difficult to tell who the villains are in this book.
I won’t really say much more than that for fear of bringing up spoilers. All I’ll tell you is that it is AND isn’t who you think. All of the visions Mary Shelley sees are so horrible and confusing and dark, that I was seriously guessing until everything was revealed. I love when I can’t figure things out. It’s so exciting.
5. Cat Winters is making me love historical fiction again.
Her author’s notes make me so happy. I get to read her awesome writing and insane stories, then I get to see what inspired them. The three biggest events/crazes in this book are represented with such attention to detail and research, that I am completely in awe of Winters. First, the Spanish influenza. There are corpses everywhere in this book, and mostly because of the flu. Everyone wears flu masks – you rarely see a character’s entire face. This was a horrible and vicious blight throughout the world, and is represented in crystal clear clarity. Second, World War I. This war was the first to introduce finely tuned killing machines, like machine guns. This was also the first emergence of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or shellshock, as they called it in 1918. Soldiers lost their minds and when they came home, were killed. No one knew how to help these boys and that, too, is something you’re forced to deal with in this book – face to face, and with no forgiveness. Third, spirit photography, and whether or not it has merit. Can you imagine if you were living in this time, losing someone to the war or the flu, and a photographer claims he can catch your loved one’s spirit in a photo with you, one last time? I know I’d fall for it, for sure. Spirit photography plays a huge role in this book. If that is a foreign subject to you, Winters will gladly school you in all things spirit photography.
OVERALL: 5 STARS!!! I will read absolutely anything Cat Winters writes. I am a fan for life. I cannot believe this review got as long as it did. I apologize I can’t tell you more, I just really don’t want to spoil anything for you. Click the link below to order, or go pick this up from your library. This was an insane ride that I never wanted to get off. Cat Winters is an incredible weaver of stories and her writing is intoxicating and addicting. Go forth and read, my friends!
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2 thoughts on “Book Review: In the Shadow of Blackbirds by Cat Winters

  1. Live, Love, Read says:

    This book wasn’t even on my radar until I read your review. I’m not much of a creepy book person or a historical fiction person, but I almost want to just read this book for the creepy history of it all! You know those scary movies you watch just to be freaked out for no reason? That’s completely how I’m feeling right now. Hahaha 🙂

    • andistrube says:

      This one and The Cure for Dreaming…seriously. I’m not a huge fan of historical, either. I am SUPER picky about historical fiction, but this? She blew me away with both of these books.

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