The Shadow of Blackbirds

The Shadow of Blackbirds

In the Shadow of Blackbirds

by Cat Winters

Genre: YA Historical Fiction, YA Paranormal
Published: April 2nd 2013
by Amulet Books




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.


52 thoughts on “The Shadow of Blackbirds

  1. I’m pretty sure my friend wanted to read this one for bookclub last year, unless I’m thinking of the wrong book, but we never did end up doing it and I completely forgot about it. I’ll have to check it out, though–I wouldn’t typically read historical but this sounds intriguing. Great review!

  2. I’m not generally a big historical reader, but this sounds brilliant Zoe, I think it’s the lure of having the pandemic type plague in there which gives it that bit of an apocalyptic feel that is drawing me in. I might wait a few weeks to grab a copy though, I have the flu at the moment and being medicated, I may just work myself into a panic. You know how dramatic I am. Wonderful review Zoe, so glad you really enjoyed this one <3

    1. Oh my gosh – reading this while you have the flu would be so, so creepy Kelly. But definitely do give this a try! (And feel better too! ♥)

  3. I have read two of Cat’s books so far, and I am yelling at myself for not reading this one yet! The other two (The Cure for Dreaming and The Uninvited) are two five stars for me- so I assume I will love this one too. It sounds like it has Cat’s trademarks: amazingly vivid historical setting, and remarkable, amazing characters. I need to get to this one ASAP, thanks for the amazing review to remind me!! 😀

    1. I haven’t read any of Cat’s other books, but if they’re even half as good as this one then I’d be happy – LOL. Definitely curious to see what you think of this Shannon!

    1. It’s not really about Mary Shelley Cait – her parents just named her that after the author; they’re two separate people. LOL – it is a bit odd. But definitely do give this a try!

  4. I have owned this book for a few years, and yet *STILL* haven’t read it (bad, I know). But now after reading your review and having it affirmed that it is in fact amazing (and great for fans of The Diviners which I also loved), I’m definitely getting to it ASAP! Thanks for the lovely review Zoe 🙂

  5. Gah, I NEED to read this one. It’s been on my wish list for forever and I just hear this author is awesome in general. Thanks for your review – I’m glad you enjoyed it. 🙂


  6. I usually prefer fantasy to historical fiction but this book sounds beautiful. I love morbid topics and writing with a darker atmosphere, the quotes you pulled out are also incredibly haunting. I’ll definitely have to check it out. Thanks for the fantastic review, Zoe <3

    1. Even if you’re more of a fantasy reader, I still think you’d really, really like this Aentee. 😉 Thank you for the lovely comment!

  7. Hey girl! This book…it sounds so dark. So mysterious. So…CREEPY! Holy crap. And just by reading your review I could feel this world and it made me want to read it even more been though thus type of book usually isn’t my style but it sounds to dark and intriguing to pass up!♡ great review as always Zoe!:)

    1. Aww…you are so sweet Keionda! I can’t tell you how much that means to me. I hope you’re able to get a copy of this ASAP and that you end up loving it as much as I did. xD

  8. I read this over the summer (maybe earlier) and it was the CREEPIEST book I’ve ever read. I wanted to read another of her books, but decided to avoid Cat Winters and her creepy writing for awhile.

    I think I’m ready to venture back in. I THINK.

  9. GIRL. I have read and adored this book so many times already. It’s honestly one of my favorite historical fiction novels and undoubtedly Cat Winters is a genius. Seriously, the way she crafts her words along with the historical accuracy and side of paranormal…JDKLSJDFLKJFKL. I’m beyond in love with her stories. Atmospheric is the one word that always comes to my mind but even it doesn’t do justice to the way Winters writes.

    It makes me beyond thrilled that you loved this one (: I hope you do end up reading (and loving) her other works just as much. Lovely review Zoe! <33 (I also miss you so much)

    1. I completely agree Larissa – it’s such a perfect balance of paranormal and historical fiction. It’s incredible the way she manages to get those two genres to integrate seamlessly without making one overpower the other. Thank you Larissa – and I’ve missed you too! ♥

  10. YESSSS. I love this book so much! I couldn’t even write a proper review for it because I just didn’t know how to properly express my fascination and adoration of it. I just love how it was so creepy and atmospheric (setting and horror wise I mean) and just well-written it was. The things revealed in the end totally caught me off-guard and I may have even teared up a little bit!

    Faye at The Social Potato

    1. I completely agree Faye – the atmosphere was so incredible. It just had that perfect historical fiction atmosphere, and combine that with the creepy paranormal undertone and it was just chilling. THAT ENDING THOUGH, RIGHT?

  11. I’ve heard this was a wonderful read and your review makes me think I will be very emotional over it too. I’m glad you enjoyed it so much – I remember wanting to read this, but I haven’t gotten around to it yet. I hope to soon!

    1. Ahh! You need to give this a try Charlene – it’s incredible. It’s the kind of book that you don’t completely start bawling at, but the kind where the tears slowly just start to flow, you know?

  12. YAY SO GLAD YOU LIKED THIS ONE! Love Cat Winters, she does just write some of the best historical fiction, and with that genre, it needs that believability on all sides, and she just totally owns it. The writing, the atmosphere, the setting, and EVERYTHING. And exactly, the paranormal aspect just fitted without question, and I loved the way that was done. And I shipped her and Stephen so bad I was doomed.

    1. So glad you liked this as much as I did Kirsty-Marie! Such an incredible book, right? ♥ And OMG – their relationship was just so, so heartbreaking, wasn’t it?

  13. I’m a huge fan of historical fiction, but I’m not really a fan of paranormal. Still, I just might give The Shadow of Blackbirds a try. It sounds like a very intense and heartbreaking novel and I’ve never read a book about the Spanish Influenza, so I’m curious now.

    1. I’m not much of a paranormal fan either Ana, but I still ended up loving this. I hope you decide to give it a try and that you like it as much as I did!

  14. “…for fans of the Diviners…”


    I NEED to read a Cat Winters book. I’ve been dying to read her stories but I just haven’t come around to it yet. To be honest I’m not that big on historical books but I’m slowly finding my way onto the wagon with this genre. Really enjoying my latest historical fiction reads. Definitely going to check this one out! Thanks for the fantastic review Zoe!

  15. This is such a lovely review of what sounds like an absolutely wonderful book! I recently read this author’s THE CURE FOR DREAMING, and everything you said about IN THE SHADOW OF BLACKBIRDS is true for that book as well.I’m so glad to hear that this book will almost certainly live up to my expectations, and I’m so glad you enjoyed it!

    1. Aww…thank you Emily! I think this would be right up your alley – and I can’t wait to hear what you think of In the Shadow of Blackbirds; especially if you liked The Cure for Dreaming. 🙂

  16. When I see the name Mary Shelley, I immediately think about Frankenstein haha. Ugh, that book was the worst, especially when I had to study it at school.

    This book however, sounds so intriguing. The cover is absolutely STUNNING, and the storyline reminds me of some of the historical fiction that I read back in primary school regarding this time period. I’m definitely going to add this to my TBR asap, thanks for sharing Zoe! xx

  17. This review is the first I have heard of this book, but you have totally sold me on it. AWESOME review, really! I will be adding this to my TBR. Is it sad that the only reason I know of the epidemic of influenza is because of Twilight? The quotes are just unbelievable and I look forward to reading this one!

    1. Yeah! I’m so glad to hear that Erin! I’m so glad you are intrigued by it – it’s definitely worth the read. And no, haha, that’s definitely not sad.

  18. This book sounds super creepy with the paranormal elements and I’m glad it was weaved in well in the World War I background! I’m not normally a fan of historical fiction, but I’m glad you enjoyed this one Zoe. Lovely review as always!

    1. The creepiness combined with the wonderful historical setting definitely made it shine Jeann. I hope you do decide to give it a try, even if historical fiction might not be your go-to genre, and that you enjoy it as much as I did!

    1. It is really creepy Olivia! Even if historical fiction isn’t really your forte, you still need to definitely give this a try. xD

  19. Ahhh, your review and those quotes make me want to go back and read this one again! I’m so glad you enjoyed it as much as I did, and I completely agree one huge strength of this book was the setting, which was perfect for the concept behind this book.

  20. I am so glad this novel works out so well! I have heard of this one and I have heard a lot of positive things about Cat Winters as well but I still need to try one of her books. I hope to do so soon and it might be this one. I love the idea of the historical element being so prominent because I am a huge historical fiction lover myself!

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