This book is set in the year 1918, but feels quite Victorian in its immersion in spiritualism and séances. The author's note at the end confirms her iThis book is set in the year 1918, but feels quite Victorian in its immersion in spiritualism and séances. The author's note at the end confirms her interest in that era, as well as in the epidemic of influenza that killed 50 million people worldwide towards the end of the first world war. In the Shadow of the Blackbirds is certainly steeped in her research of both those eras, and the mash-up of time periods and genres work together beautifully, with historical drama, ghost story, and mystery all present in one immensely readable volume.
What I liked best: Mary's visits to the sick ward, where we gaze with unflinching eyes at the terrible toll that war takes on human life and liberty. Atmospheric descriptions. The desperate belief in futile home remedies, the doctor who is obsessed with measuring the weight of souls, and other immersive historical touches that were organic to the story. An unusual romance with an unexpectedly strong and sensual pull to it. Unforgettable secondary characters, particularly a weary young soldier who has seen too much. A few hair-raising moments where the supernatural world meets the living. Its examination of how fear plays tricks with your mind, so you're never really sure what's real and what's not.
I did find Mary Shelley (Black)'s name to be a bit distracting, particularly since it is repeated in full so often, and I was more drawn to the second half of the story, which I felt was better plotted, a little less crazed (view spoiler)[I know, it's sort of weird to say that, given what happens later--but between the back story explanations, the sudden flashbacks, Mary's being struck by lightning, etc, there was a lot going on! (hide spoiler)], and held its tension more assuredly than in the first half. Mary herself is also a character who engaged more of my interest than my whole heart, though I grew to like her more as her world started unraveling. I also think my reading of so many gothic/ghost stories has probably spoiled me a bit to love it as wildly as I think my younger self might've, though this is certainly a fantastic and mature addition to the YA genre. It actually reminds me a little bit of Sarah Waters' superbly chilling Affinity, though with a more straightforward plot and less complexity of language--and minus the lesbian subtext, of course.
Still, this is a wonderfully unusual novel that I highly recommend to fans of Libba Bray's The Diviners. I read it in a matter of hours, and count them an evening well-spent. An exceptional debut from an author to watch.
Oh--and the physical book is quite beautiful as well, so if you're wavering between ebook and hardback, this is one instance where I'd recommend the latter. Whoever designed the cover art, illustrations, etc. did a beautiful job, and there are also black and white photographs, some of which added to the spooky feel of the story.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
3.5 stars A lot of things to admire here--particularly a fantastic premise and a clear commitment to writing about characters that are not the usual w3.5 stars A lot of things to admire here--particularly a fantastic premise and a clear commitment to writing about characters that are not the usual white, straight, able-bodied, cookie cutter characters. Fantasy's combined well with more modern POV, and it's nice to have YA that doesn't cater to a typical relationship "norm," even within the heterosexual one depicted. And yet, for all that it's a perfectly well-executed story, is well-written, includes danger and intrigue, and has so many merits, this story and its characters didn't move me or thrill me as much as I would have hoped.
Still, it's well worth checking out from the library, especially if you'd like to read something that doesn't feel like a well-worn mass-produced product like so many young adult books published right now in the US. I think fans of Incarceron or Poison Study might also enjoy this.
An advance copy was provided by the publisher for this review.
My friend Elena's review sums up my own overall feelings for this as well, down to the need to put the book aside for a bit, as well as the truly good work the author does as an advocate for unheard voices in the YA community: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show... In a year that has seen a lot of fanfare for the need for diversity in children's publishing, this author's stance is one of the most sincere and thought-provoking.
Hm, I feel alone in a sea of glowing 4s and 5s on this one.
This is such an interesting subject, and there were times when Imogene's PTSD flashbacks wHm, I feel alone in a sea of glowing 4s and 5s on this one.
This is such an interesting subject, and there were times when Imogene's PTSD flashbacks were definitely troubling. But I had a serious problem connecting with most of the characters, and I was never really convinced by most of the main story arcs.
A story that engaged my interest for the short while it took to read it, but one that ultimately left my heart...unbruised. ...more
3.5 stars There were some nicely atmospheric moments and the period setting is well-detailed, but somehow this story and these characters never quite3.5 stars There were some nicely atmospheric moments and the period setting is well-detailed, but somehow this story and these characters never quite grabbed me by the throat the way I'd hoped they would. I kept waiting to feel passion and outrage on behalf of these women, and yet I read about these events with curiosity and commiseration, but without any real sense of kinship or compassion.
I think the story could have benefited from more complex plotting, more intellectual discussion, more nuanced characters (particularly the men), and more feeling as well.