Book Review,  Reviews

In The Shadow of Blackbirds – Cat Winters

“The day before my father’s arrest. I read an article about a mother who cured her daughter of the Spanish flu by burying her in raw onions for three days. 
‘It’s like the Gypsies hanging garlic above their doors to ward off evil,’ my father remarked over supper, ‘relying on folk remedies out of desperation.’ He shook his head at the state of the world and scratched his white whiskers.”

When Mary Shelley’s father is arrested for rallying against America’s involvement in the First World War she escapes Portland in order to seek refuge with her Aunt in San Diego. For years she has been conversing with an old friend who lived in San Diego via letters, Stephen left to be a solider just a few months before  but has still been writing Mary Shelley, until recently. When back in the city Mary Shelley and her Aunt Eva visit Stephen’s family home to have Mary Shelley’s photograph taken by Stephen’s brother Juilian, who claims to be able to capture the spirits of loved ones within the image. In the image Mary Shelley thinks she can see Stephen’s figure watching over her and when he starts to visit her at home in the dead of night she is forced to rethink the way she looks at life and death.

I love it when a book makes me think and In The Shadow of Blackbirds definitely did that. With its bleak setting deep in the world of the First World War and in the midst of the Spanish Flu epidemic, the story mixed the misery of the real world with that of the spirit world and whilst it did not make for a happy story it was an excellent one that made you think about the trails and tribulations of life, and death.
The story was fantastic and I was hooked early on. The time frame intrigued me as I have little knowledge of the Spanish Flu and America’s involvement of the First World War. It was interesting to read about the way loving neighbours become spies, ready to drop so called friends in it at a minutes notice if they think they are not rallying the troups. Also the way that even the most scientific of people, like Mary Shelley, turned to folk remedies involving a lot of onions to get through the flu was amazing to read about. The time frame makes me excited because it was just as women were gaining more freedom, more power to do things, the main character’s Aunt Eva works in the shipyard making the warships because there is a lack of men doing that kind of work. Aunt Eva still had the mindset of what was right to be a woman but Mary Shelley liked to fight against that and be who she wanted to be, and her mother was a doctor too which was unusual at that time. The spiritualist movement and seances etc that were happening really intrigued me as I love anything to do with that. I thought it was crazy as it all panned out but I really did love it. 
The characters were great, as I said Mary Shelley was not afraid of what people thought of her and actively went against what would be right for a woman at that time. Aunt Eva was sweet enough but she was too set in her old fashioned ways and I like that Mary Shelley was there to prove to her that things can change. There was something about Julius that I didn’t like right from the start, an underlying dislike which reared its head more and more a the book went on. The character of Stephen, although never really present in real form, was really interesting and I loved finding out more and more about him. The relationship between him and Mary Shelley was brilliant and although the character terrified me a fair few times when he ‘appeared’ for Mary Shelley, I really liked him. Other characters surprised me with twists and the like so I was really pleased with what Cat Winters did with them. 
The story is pretty creepy, it involves a lot of supernatural elements and whilst I love that some bits are kinda scary. I really liked the mystery surrounding Stephen’s death and the way that comes across. I don’t want to say too much but I really thought the whole thing was brilliant executed by Winters. I will definitely be checking out more by the author and will recommend this book, with its haunting images and brilliant storyline, to every reader. 
In The Shadows of Blackbirds will be released on April 2nd by Amulet, an Abrams and Chronicle imprint. My copy was sent by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. 

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