In the Shadow of Blackbirds
By Cat Winters
Available now Amulet Books (ABRAMS)
I wanted to read IN THE SHADOW OF BLACKBIRDS because of the creepy cover and evocative title. I didn't really know anything about the story when I began. But wow, what a story it is.
Mary Shelley Black travels to live with her Aunt Eva in San Diego after her father is imprisoned. The First World War is in full swing, the young men going off to war and many never returning, or only returning in pieces. But not all is peaceful at home, because in 1918 there was a major influenza outbreak. People are wearing masks, bathing in onions, anything to stay healthy.
Mary Shelley briefly reunites with her childhood friend and potential boyfriend Stephen before he goes off to war. They were forcibly parted before, due to Stephen's older half brother lying about their relationship. And now Mary Shelley is forced to interact with that villainous brother because he is a talented spiritual photographer and Aunt Eva believes in his abilities.
Debut author Cat Winters clearly did her research. She brings the anxieties and dreams of the time to vivid life, channeled through Mary Shelley's rather extraordinary story. Because things take a turn for the paranormal when, after a series of unfortunate events, Mary Shelley begins to have dreams of Stephen being tortured by blackbirds. She has to find a way to save him, even as she tries to figure out how to live her life as an independent woman.
IN THE SHADOW OF BLACKBIRDS is both terrifying and heartbreaking. Dread pervades every aspect of the novel. It's contrasted by the sweetness of Mary Shelley and Stephen's love. Their romance is a lovely, gentle thing. That only serves to make the novels many twists and turns more heartrending. IN THE SHADOW OF BLACKBIRDS is a story to read when you're in the mood to submerge yourself completely in a character's story. Mary Shelley's chilling tale demands attention.
Winters' debut is brilliant, showcasing incredible talent and imagination. I can't wait to see what she writes next. Historical photographs and facts blend with deft characterization and intricate plotting to create a haunting story. IN THE SHADOW OF BLACKBIRDS questions the meaning of war, tells a tender love story, crescendos into a genuinely frightening ghost story, and it's all held together by an extraordinary heroine. It's a little early, but I think I can safely say this is one of the best books of 2013.