Wednesday, January 30, 2013

In The Shadow of Blackbirds by Cat Winters

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.

Publisher: Amulet Books
Number of Pages: 400
Type: Hardcover

Reviewed by Ellie, age 16
I have mentioned in a previous review that I am really not one for scary novels, yet I persist in picking them up. This time, I chose In The Shadow of Blackbirds by Cat Winters. Set in 1918 during the influenza epidemic and told through the eyes of the slightly odd Mary Shelley Black, this story is a weird but strangely satisfying mix of a horror movie and an Agatha Christie mystery.

Mary Shelley Black is different. Scientific and imaginative, Mary Shelley has been sent to live with her Aunt Eva in California after her father is imprisoned for helping men escape enlisting into the army. Once she arrives, she takes a visit to see an old spirit photographer acquaintance and is surprised-and terrified-to see that the love of her life, Stephen Embers, appearing in the background…as a ghost. Mary Shelley must then come to grips with death, ghosts, and the possibility that Stephen might not be resting in peace…actually, make that the certainty that he’s not resting in peace. All this drama is set against the dread-inducing background of the Spanish Influenza outbreak.

I applaud Cat Winters on her ability to write gripping prose. I was unsure of how good this novel would be--often historical-type novels are written in an awkward, clumsy fashion as the author tries to gain footing with the attitude of the period—but my fears were assuaged quickly, as Winters does a fantastic job portraying not only the feisty Mary Shelley but also her hardworking Aunt Eva and the cunning Julius Embers, brother of Stephen and (fraudulent?) spirit photographer. Similarly, she describes everything form spooky séances and a ghostly visits to veteran’s hospitals in a way that is fresh and original.  Even the dialogue was impressive on this front-I was astonished by how real Mary Shelley seemed when she spoke to others.

My only complaint comes to mind only when I think about this book in hindsight-there were pieces missing. Not huge, gaping holes, mind you, but small plot points that seemed to fizzle and die out before the story ended and were never fully resolved.

I would recommend this book to anyone who is 13+ and enjoys a good ghost novel. However, I would not recommend reading this book at night-it’s just a bit too scary for that!

This book hits shelves April of 2013! 
Buy Hardcover | $16.95

Happy reading!
Ellie, age 16


  1. I'm really excited for this book! Ghost stories are some of my favorites and I'm so glad this one is actually a little scary. I'm fascinated by spirit photography, so that's just an added bonus. April can't get here fast enough :0)

    Thanks for the great review!


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