Author: Cat Winters
Genre: YA, historical fiction, paranormal, romance
Publication Date: April 2, 2013 (Amulet/Abrams – North America)
Source: Publisher-provided ARC/NetGalley Review Copy
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?
☆: 4.5/5 stars – a stunning debut that will leave you dying for more!
Review: WOW. This book so wasn’t what I thought it was going to be – and that’s not a good or a bad thing, just a “what the hell did I just read? And can I have some more?” thing. It’s rare that I get books that confuse, bemuse, and dazzle me, and “In the Shadow of Blackbirds” is definitely one of those books. If you’re looking for something fresh and new within the YA paranormal department that has a firm foot in reality and history, definitely check out “In the Shadow of Blackbirds”.
To say that “nothing is what it seems” in this book is a total understatement. I was totally unprepared going in, and this was a good thing – especially considering that ending (which I won’t be spoiling). I did NOT see that coming, and honestly, I didn’t see most of what was coming in the big reveals or major plot twists department. Which made me cheer – because it feels like there’s getting less and less of actual mystery to be kept in one’s arcs and plots in YA as of late. There’s so many twists and turns in this one, there was only one plot twist I could even vaguely see coming down the road (because it was an inevitability more than anything else), but everything else, especially the ending, really had me gasping for breath. No pun intended.
I’m also happy to see that Winters really did her research when it came to all of the major areas of the plot of this book – WWI, Spanish Flu, and the last gasp of the American Spiritualism movement, which I had no idea had lasted so late into the Edwardian age. This book is thick with realistic history overlaid with a sinister feel of fear and paranoia that was authentic to that year, that age with both the flu and the war bearing down on the US. The atmosphere to the book felt genuinely authentic, and seeing as I’m a SoCal resident myself (and have been in San Diego/around Coronado before), she got everything right. And that always makes me happy.
So with the combination of good research and knowledge of the area of which she was writing about, Winters creates a marvelous world for all of us to play in. The worldbuilding and character building are top notch, and definitely impressed me for a debut. It’s all very thorough, and all of the characters (even the most minor bits of the main cast) are very sturdy and 3D. All can hold water (as it were) and are complex, all with their own motives on how to survive both the war and the pandemic (and in some cases, even to thrive, or come out on top of both). They’re all deliciously layered, and just when you think you have the antagonist figured out? BAM, said the lady, it all turns around on you.
Also, I love how this is a semi-retelling of “Frankenstein”. Semi-retelling. Not entirely, but it took me awhile to actually see it. I see what you did there, Winters. Very, very clever, and it’ll have you asking (just like in the original “Frankenstein”) – who are the real monsters? Who are the real enemies? Who can we really trust?
What I loved the most is that this is not the feel good read of the year – but it is one of the more important ones. It’ll show you how far humans will sink (even as Mary Shelley says in the book) to survive. Conversely, it’ll also show you hope and strength in the absolute worst of times, and is almost a Darwinian tale of survival, as the real 1918 flu was. So yeah, you might need to curl up with your blankie and favorite stuffed guy after this one, because it’s not happy.
But all in all? I adored this book. Definitely one of my favorite debuts of 2013 so far, “In the Shadow of Blackbirds” is out now through Amulet/Abrams in North America, so definitely be sure to check it out when you get the chance!