Keertana's Reviews > In the Shadow of Blackbirds

In the Shadow of Blackbirds by Cat Winters
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it was amazing
bookshelves: debut-author-2013, 2013-favorites, books-that-linger, kick-ass-heroines, swoooon, wishlist

Rating: 4.5 Stars

"The road ahead may be rather upsetting for a sixteen-year-old girl. I'm afraid your delicate female eyes and ears will experience some ugliness."

"Oh, you silly, naive men." I shook my weary head and genuinely pitied their ignorance. "You've clearly never been a sixteen-year-old girl in the fall of 1918."


And thank god for that. In the Shadows of Blackbirds is historical fiction at its best - so richly atmospheric and full of true accounts that it leaves you chilled to the bone. It is often difficult to imagine that our world could be as scary or frightening as an alien planet, but it was, it is, and it will continue to be. World War I especially, though, was a frightful time. Granted, there was no threat of nuclear warfare, but trench warfare was just as deadly and the image of poison gas, giant rats, and infection still plagues my mind when I think back to that time period in history. Now, undoubtedly, the image of white masked faces and black feet, carts carrying the dead as if it were the Bubonic Plague, will haunt me too.

Cat Winters picks a time period of deep loss, fatigue, and fear to place her debut novel in, but it works perfectly. Although the aura is one of fear, for people are hiding away not just from officers determined to arrest any and all who seem pro-German, but they are hiding away from Death himself. Mary Shelley Black, the headstrong protagonist of our tale, has arrived in San Diego to live with her recently widowed aunt. Since her mother died during child birth and her father has been deemed a traitor, Mary is alone in the world but for her aunt and childhood sweetheart, Stephan, who is now fighting in the war. In San Diego, though, the people are slowly going mad, both from fear of the plague - eating nothing but onions and clutching their gauze masks to their faces - but also from the hope of seeing their deceased ones in spirit images. Julian, the older step-brother of Stephan, specializes in such images and Mary, ever a girl of practical knowledge and scientific learning, is skeptical of his claims. When Mary begins to see the spirit of Stephan, her first love, though, she turns her eye to the spiritual - and to the question of why Stephan can't find peace in the afterlife.

"Why can't a girl be smart without it being explained away as a rare supernatural phenomenon?"

From the first page itself, Mary Shelley Black is the type of protagonist I love. Not only is she fiercely independent and practical, but as the daughter of a female physician, she is intensely curious in how things work. Mary is, quite simply put, the beginning of women engineers in our world. While she remains skeptical of Julian, though, she never relinquishes her strength in helping her aunt and maintains her courage during this time of death. Furthermore, and perhaps best of all, Mary is smart enough to realize that seeing the ghost of her first love is not a ticket to happily-ever-after like so many other young adult protagonists seem to think. No, the ending of this story is bittersweet and set in an era of so much death, there really are only a few ways this book can turn out.

"Everyone wants to categorize the world as good or bad, right or wrong. There is nothing 'in between' in their eyes."

In the Shadow of Blackbirds is not a happy novel, but it is beautifully written, managing to transport the reader into a time long-forgotten. Winters uses striking images, buried before and after certain chapters, to drive home the unforgettable era she paints. Not only that, but Cat Winters weaves beautiful love stories within these pages, whether it be the tales of familial love and strength that emerge or the sweet tales of first love. Both these dual - and prominent - relationships that Mary holds with her aunt and Stephan are richly developed and believable. Mary and her Aunt Eva, in particular, become close companions and though they are both very different women, they come to represent the strength of their sex in different ways. With Stephan, the unshakable foundation of their relationship is evident in past letters and ghostly encounters, both terrifying and soothing at the same time. For me, the strength of Winters's skill is shown most evidently in these scenes, both full of real-life horrors while simultaneously displaying an emotion of calm and palpable love.

"Just remember human beings have always managed to find the greatest strength within themselves during the darkest hours."

In nearly every way, In the Shadow of Blackbirds is perfect. Within its pages awaits a seemingly forgotten era - another Lost Generation of souls deceased from infection - along with a remarkable heroine and a blood-curling mystery. And yet, Winters doesn't stop there. In the Shadow of Blackbirds contains some of the most poignant one-liners I've come across, bursting with truth and dripping with wisdom. Furthermore, Winters takes care to explore the shifted dynamic that has emerged among women during this time of war. One of Winters's greatest assets as a writer is her ability to subtly weave in many aspects of this time period, from socially acceptable customs to gender roles to intimate details about warfare, but nothing is over-done. Every subject she touches upon manages to be delved with the perfect balance so that the reader is felt completely satisfied, even on the subject of spiritualism. If Winters did lose me anywhere, it was only that there were one-too-many near-death - or death - experiences to completely sell me, but as this is a novel of fiction that is perfect in every other way, I can easily forgive this. In the Shadow of Blackbirds is, undoubtedly, one of my favorite reads of the year. It is a novel I will return to, certainly, as for me, any book that is a time machine is worth holding on to.
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Reading Progress

February 19, 2013 – Shelved
May 9, 2013 – Shelved as: own-tbr
May 12, 2013 – Shelved as: to-read-soon
May 18, 2013 – Started Reading
May 18, 2013 – Shelved as: debut-author-2013
May 19, 2013 – Shelved as: 2013-favorites
May 19, 2013 – Shelved as: kick-ass-heroines
May 19, 2013 – Shelved as: books-that-linger
May 19, 2013 – Shelved as: swoooon
May 19, 2013 – Finished Reading
January 9, 2014 – Shelved as: wishlist

Comments Showing 1-11 of 11 (11 new)

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Jessie Hi Keertana! You're reading this! It's amazing, I hope you enjoy it! ;)


Keertana Thanks, Jessie! I'm not too far in, but I'm really liking it so far! :)


message 3: by Cristina (new)

Cristina I really want to read this! But I'm in no place of mind for sadness and it seems most people find it pretty dark. Can't wait for your review.


Keertana Cristina, I really loved it. I don't think it's sad as much as it is horrifying and eye-opening. Mary Shelley, the protagonist, doesn't really allow this book to become depressing. It is dark, but it's an intriguing novel, full of mystery, and I almost don't want to leave its heavy, but strong, atmosphere. Very highly recommended for sure. :)


Jessie Wow brilliant review, Keertana! Even though I've read it, I would've been sold if I haven't. Anyway, I agree with you about the too many near-death experience. o wasn't convinced about (view spoiler) But just like you, this book is just too amazing that I can totally overlook that!:)


Keertana Actually, (view spoiler)


message 7: by Jessie (last edited May 21, 2013 05:39AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jessie Haha I see! In my opinion, It's the sweetest scene ever, so yeah I think even though it might just be a little too idealistic, it's still perfect! :P


Keertana Nah, I agree about that too! ;)


Jessie Sorry! I just noticed your last sentence from your last comment. Please, ignore me. This is embarrassing. *blushes* *runs and hides away in a far corner*


Keertana No problem, Jessie! I do that all the time, so there's no need to feel embarrassed, really! :)


message 11: by AH (new) - added it

AH I can't wait to read this. Nice review.


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