25 March 2013

Review: In the Shadow of Blackbirds by Cat Winters

In the Shadow of Blackbirds by Cat Winters

Expected Publication: 2 April 2013 by Amulet Books

Pages: 400 (hardcover)

Genre/s: YA, Historical Fiction, Paranormal

Source: Publisher for Review


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.

My Thoughts

From the moment I read the synopsis of In the Shadow of Blackbirds, I knew I had to read it. Historical-romantic-ya-viral-paranormal-fiction? Yup, this had my name all over it, in big pink sparkly letters. And when I received my copy and saw the presentation of the ARC, I was even more excited - the black and white photographs really add another level of spooky-realism to the book.

It's not often I talk about covers (not that I don't love awesome covers mind you!), but I think it's important to mention just how closely the cover ties into the story. It sometimes feels like covers are made pretty just to grab our initial attention, without being completely relevant to the book, but in this case it is definitely integrated into the story, and I had to keep closing the book to look at the cover again.

Mary Shelley is a very unique character - fascinated with electricity, she's brave, smart, loyal and curious, all of which added up to make her a very endearing character, and she really helped to bring all the genre-elements together in a cohesive fashion. Her friendship-come-romance with her childhood sweetheart, Stephen was so beautifully written it really felt like they were characters made to be with each other.

The plot itself is beautifully twisty, and I was hooked from the first page. Throw in some spiritualist photographers (which absolutely fascinated me) and a seance, along with descriptions of the Spanish Influenza's impact on the city, and everything is beautifully tied together. Having so many genres and sub-genres in one book and having them work in harmony is no mean feat, and Ms. Winters has done an exceedingly good job with In the Shadow of Blackbirds - nothing feels like it's thrown in just to get attention.

I was completely immersed in 1918 America - the descriptions of the Influenza, the horrors of the war and the returning soldiers, the desperation of people to have one last contact with their loved ones through whichever means necessary.

The writing is straightforward, but fits perfectly with the time period, really evoking a sense of being in the world that Mary Shelley inhabits. Although her characters are a little less than conventional, Ms. Winters makes them all work very well together.

In the Shadow of Blackbirds completely surpassed all of my expectations - Cat Winters' debut is absolutely magnificent.


  1. Probably, I wouldn't have given the book a second look but going by your review, I totally should. Historical-romantic-ya-viral-paranormal-fiction, did you say? Oh wow, that sounds fantastic!

    Beautiful, twisty plot and hooking from page 1, now that's my kind of book. Goes on my must-read list. Thanks for finding this gem, Kat. :)

  2. The second review I have seen for this book and both very positive. I was on the fence for this one but I think it is turning into a must read. the cover is creepy and I can see how it could match the storyline very well. Great review.

  3. This sounds like it has such a spooky vibe going for it, I love that it's maintained in the presentation and the writing. That takes skill. I am so curious about this one but the fact that it is a historical makes me a bit nervous. I don't do well with those. Fabulous review, Kat, I am happy to see that you loved it so much!

  4. Oh my gosh, this sounds amazing. And the cover definitely caught my eye.

    Great review, Kat!

  5. It's always great when a cover matches a book. And this is a stunning cover.

    The plot and the characters sound awesome. Mary sounds like someone I'll immediately like and the Spanish influenza is fascinating. Great review Kat and I can't wait for this book. A lot of people are enthusiastic about it.


  6. GAH I want to read this one so bad and you know what? I even have it from Netgalley and it's a bitch to read so I think I'll have to buy it. They have it as there are 2 pages for evry 1 PDF page, so my Kobo only gives me every 2 pages, and if I convert it it's all messed up. BOoooo!! But it sounds 100% like my kind of book so I think I'll just buy it >.<

  7. Historical fiction meets paranormal goodness is one of my favourite genres, especially when done right (as it sounds like this one was). The whole ghost thing is fascinating and I love the addition of super creepy photographs which can only add to the book's eerie vibe. I totally trust your recommendations (because our tastes are so similar) so this is one I will most definitely pick up!

    Also, I think it's really clever how the main character Mary Shelley is a curious girl in a gothic inspired novel who is interested in electricty. Perhaps this was a slight nod by Winters to Mary Shelley's Frankenstein?

  8. I completely agree with you about the cover on this book. When I first saw it, I didn't get it and didn't like it very much. But now that I have read the book it makes so much more sense because of how well it ties in to the story, and now I love it. Does that make sense?

    I'm so glad you loved this book enough to rate it 5 stars. It started out a little slow for me so I only gave it 4, but I still really thought it was unique and memorable and helped to get me out of like a 4 book reading slump. Which I completely appreciate. I recommend this to almost everyone who asks me for a good recent read.

  9. Wow, all the elements of this book sound like they would create a really awesome setting!



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