Saturday, 20 April 2013

Book Review: 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.

I have to admit that I was uncertain about reading this book, I was unsure if it was something I really wanted to read and it took a while for me to get around to reading it. I am so glad I finally did pick it up because In the Shadow of Blackbirds is really quite impressive.

It takes place in America during World War 1 and is largely influenced by the Spanish Flu Epidemic that was rampant at the time. Being British my history lessons tended to revolve more around the plague where disease is concerned so this really was different and new for me. I have heard that this book is not historically correct where the Spanish Influenza is concerned but I still learnt a great deal from it, not only about the flu itself but about America during war time. What really helped with this and also with the atmosphere of the novel is the use of photos taken at that time and real posters and propaganda that were fluttered throughout the book, it was a really nice touch.

The story itself is fantastic and in truth it is hard to pick up on something Winters has done wrong, she manages to weave so many emotions and feelings into this but not once did it feel overdone. The spooky bits were genuinely unsettling (as were one or two of the photos), the romance was beautiful, the relationships complex and emotional and the ending just brilliant. There was a twist at the end I didn’t see coming and I was moved to tears at points.

Winters has not only created a wonderful story but also some brilliant characters. Mary will probably be one of my favourite YA female characters of the year. She was smart, sensible and lovable. She has been through so much and her story is not an easy one, and the world she is growing up in is dark and terrifying but she was so mature and well put together. I admired her courage and her strength so much and liked how it ended for her. Her relationship was her aunt was complex but there was real love there.

In the Shadow of Blackbirds is a well put together and atmospheric novel that really does deserve some attention. I doubt it was be a huge hit or that people will take much notice, the cover is odd and the blurb even more so, but to not pay this book attention would be a real shame because it most certainly deserves it. I doubt there will be a YA book this year written with this level of atmosphere, emotional depth and maturity.

4 stars

Published April 2nd 2013 by Amulet Books.  A free copy was provided for review. Image courtesy of Goodreads

Review by Kate Phillips

Book Trailer


  1. I have heard such high praises for this novel but I am a bit wary because of the setting. I love historical fiction but they're not always a hit for me. I do however love the whole complex emotions for the novel as well as how lovable the main protagonist is.

    awesome review,
    - Juhina @ Maji Bookshelf

  2. I had not heard that this book was historically incorrect-that is a bummer to find out! Do you know which parts?

    I thought this book was quite impressive and have been pleased to see so many positive reviews of it.

    1. I honestly don't know, it is something I read in a few reviews but not knowing much about History I can't say for sure.

  3. I have seen a lot of good reviews for this book, and even though I don't usually ever read historical fiction, I think I'm going to give this one a try. I just sounds so good... and I love a book that can make me cry!

  4. Really not the kind of book I want. But I do really enjoy your post!! Thanks!!


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