Kit Grindstaff's Reviews > In the Shadow of Blackbirds

In the Shadow of Blackbirds by Cat Winters
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it was amazing

Titles can be powerful, and this one hooked me before I even knew what the book was about. The fact that it was "paranormal" ramped up my interest, and after months of waiting, I grabbed it as soon as it arrived at my local bookstore. Such anticipation can lead to disappointment--but not in this case. My high expectations were more than met. This WW1 ghost/mystery/love story was an absolute page-turner.

The story is told in first person by 16-year-old Mary Shelley Black-a very different sort of girl for the time-and set against two, equally horrific backgrounds: WW1, and the devastating Spanish influenza. Her father having been arrested for encouraging others to be conscientious objectors, Mary Shelley flees from Portland and goes to stay with an aunt in San Diego. There, she visits the family home of her adored childhood friend and now love-interest, Steven, who left for the front a few months ago. His brother Julius is a spirit photographer, who claims to be able to capture the ghosts of lost loved ones on film. Such charlatans were legion at the time, taking advantage of the hoards of bereaved, and Mary Shelley, who doesn't believe in ghosts, is highly skeptical-especially as she already knows Julius to be a liar, and has reason to dislike and distrust him. But Julius's photographs have been declared genuine by a famous debunker of frauds, and as events unfold, even Mary Shelley is forced to question her beliefs.

Much as cholera is in Sheri Holman's brilliant The Dress Lodger, the Spanish influenza epidemic is like a character, creeping around in the background, claiming lives just as the war being fought across the Atlantic does. The fear caused by each is palpable, and brilliantly conveyed by Winters. From page one, as Mary Shelley boards the train, we see through her first-person perspective the sinister effect of the flu, with everyone wearing white gauze masks that render them creepily faceless. Throughout the book, the long shadow of death cast by the epidemic interweaves with the horrors of a distant but ever-present war. And then, there's the shadow of those blackbirds, and the personal horror story which begins plaguing Mary Shelley and shaking her loose from her pragmatic moorings…

There's only one thing I didn't like about this book: it ended. As all good things must. I'm already looking forward to the author's next one!

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Reading Progress

May 14, 2012 – Shelved
Started Reading
April 27, 2013 – Finished Reading

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