Published by Amulet Books on April 2nd 2013
Genres: Historical Romance, Young Adult
Pages: 400 (Hardcover)
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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.
In the Shadow of Blackbirds, or ItSoB as I shall refer to it from now on, is not a happy book. However, it’s dark themes and setting do not stop this brilliantly written book from lifting its wings and soaring. See what I did there?
I have two major bones to pick with this book before I sing its praise, the first being the paranormal aspect. A properly mixed Historical/Paranormal leaves the muscles of my reader arms (super buff, from the book holding) turning to mush with all the excited feels. The combination can sometimes go awry, however. In ItSoB, I was enthralled from the beginning to the end, but there were some moments along the way that grew muddled and seemed slightly ridiculous, which can really shake you from the scene. But anything Paranormal is always hit or miss in its believability, and for the most part, ItSoB was right on target. Some of the scenes seemed to real that I was starting to get paranoid about various noises and shadows in my house. I could almost hear Aunt Eva’s Magpie, Oberon crowing “Who’s there?”
The second contention I had was with Mary Shelley, and it was a small as well. She was awesome, really. Every change in her character, from hope to despair to complete insanity was amazing, and overall I thought her voice was perfect for solving mysteries. But there were moments when I rolled my eyes. I can’t stand when the main character goes through a bought of what I call “beautiful social pariah syndrome” (TM), where they are striking in the looks department, but almost everyone will avoid them due to the fact that they are so. gosh darn. smart. Mary Shelley only complained about this a couple times, and it wasn’t enough to stave my growing adoration for her proactive and generally awesome demeanour.
The other characters were great too. Of course Stephen Embers, Mary’s childhood friend turned love who goes off to war, was fantastic, both in Mary’s memories, the letters he wrote to her and the hollowed out person he becomes in spirit form. Aunt Eva was wonderful, and so were the boys Mary met volunteering at the hospital. And the darker characters were thrilling and engaging, but you’re not getting a peep about them from me.
Of course, this book was really brought to life by it’s magnificently haunting setting. The dizzyingly grim quality of 1918 re-envisioned through Winters prose isn’t one I’ll soon forget. It was incredibly well researched, and I loved the pictures throughout the novel that really heightened the reality of it all, that the world of 1918 was somehow in a broken and horrifying way, the predecessor of our’s. I am a sucker for an excellent Historical Fiction, and I highly recommend this book to anyone else who is.
Actually, I recommend this book to generally anyone. Anyone enticed by mystery and near death experiences and ghosts that reappear from the past to beg the living to unravel what brought them to their grave. Anyone with interest in old photographs, anyone who loves anagrams, anyone who loves the feeling you get when you read the last words of a book and they’re so bad-ass and perfect, you just want to dance. I hope that’s all of you