In the Shadow of Blackbirds by Cat Winters
Summary: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?
Just remember that human beings have always managed to find the greatest strength within themselves during the darkest hours. When faced with the worst horrors the world has to offer, a person either cracks and succumbs to the ugliness, or they salvage the inner core of who they are and fight to right wrongs.
In the Shadow of Blackbirds is absolutely stunning. Not only is it a beautifully written and evocative novel, but it contains one of the most atmospheric and believable historical settings I’ve ever read in a historical fiction novel.
It’s October of 1918, and 16-year-old Mary Shelley Black is traumatized after learning that her childhood sweetheart Stephen has been killed in a battle during World War One. But when Stephen’s spirit continues to appear, Mary is forced to confront the fact that his death was not at all what it seemed.
What makes In the Shadow of Blackbirds such a strong novel is it’s historical setting. When most people think of 1918, the first thing that comes to mind is probably World War One. So many people forget the horribly devastating Spanish Influenza that struck the country that same year – killing 50 to 100 million people.
We live in a world so horrifying, it frightens even the dead.
In the Shadow of Blackbirds depicts the fear, the wariness, the dread of the influenza outbreak so realistically. Just a single sneeze can earn you a wary glance from neighbors and friends; and those who were alive and smiling one day could very well be dead the next.
Death snapped at my heels – I’m coming. Are you watching out for me?
Combine this with the horrors and realities of World War One, and it’s imaginable why people were so quick to turn to spiritualism during this time; and that’s why the paranormal aspects of the story worked so well. I personally always have trouble reading novels where fantasy or paranormal elements are thrown in just for kicks, but here it made sense, and Cat Winters managed to weave the two genres together flawlessly.
The characters – all the way from Mary Shelley herself to her uptight aunt Eva – are all developed flawlessly. The romance between Stephen and Marie is satisfying and traumatizing at the same time. The mystery of what happened to Stephen is heart-breaking and surprising.
A solid and highly recommended story – especially to fans of The Diviners or simply historical fiction in general.
Everyone wants to categorize the world as good or bad, right or wrong. There is nothing ‘in between’ in their eyes.