Review + Giveaway: In the Shadow of Blackbirds by Cat Winters
In the Shadow of Blackbirds by Cat Winters.
Published: April 2, 2013.
Published by: Amulet Books.
Source: Won ARC from Me, My Shelf and I. Thank you so much!
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.
I had high hopes for this novel. I mean, read the summary. Look at the cover. How could one not have high hopes? It was one of my most anticipated reads of the year and I am delighted to say that it completely and totally delivered.
Cat has done an amazing job of weaving together the setting and the plot to create an all-encompassing world that pulls you right in. The tension and the fear of the United States in 1918, faced with both the Spanish influenza and having troops overseas fighting in World War I, was evident throughout the story. It was a harsh reality: people were dying everywhere. Death was literally all around. This was such a major part of the period, and Cat used it to the best effect possible. It was shown not only in the obvious ways, but also in the subtleties: people shifting or turning away when someone coughs on the street car. The widening of eyes whenever someone takes down their mask. It was such a complete transformation of the time that I had no difficulty being sucked into 1918. That is exactly what historical fiction should do, and it is why I love the genre so much.
The characters also helped draw me into the story. Mary Shelley Black felt like the girl I've been waiting for years to read about. She felt so true, with genuine fears for her father, a remaining longing for her deceased mother, and concern for her flu-fearing aunt. And, of course, suffering greatly from the loss of her first love, Stephen. Yet despite all these difficulties, Mary Shelley Black is strong. She is brave, more concerned about caring for those around her than for herself. She is curious, faced with so many questions and uncertainties and an urge to solve them all. And she does not lose it in the face of her dead love's ghost! I think that says a lot about someone, especially about a girl who is a complete skeptic during a boom of spirit photography. She is scared, absolutely, but she is brave enough and her feelings for Stephen are strong enough that she will do anything it takes to help him. She is the girl I wish I could be.
As for Stephen, well, he just broke my heart. We get to see the old Stephen through flashbacks and though the letters he wrote to Mary Shelley and it makes his story all the more devastating. There were so many passages in this novel that I read with tears in my eyes because I could feel his pain, and I could feel Mary Shelley's pain at feeling completely unable to help him. His was a heart-wrenching story and Cat has told it perfectly.
I am not normally one for ghost stories but I found no fault with this one. I put aside all pre-conceived notions I had of ghosts and allowed this story to swallow me up, and never once did a doubt or disbelief cross my mind. I raced through it, unable to put it down. I spent the whole time dying to know what would happen next, or if my suspicions about a character were right, or how it would all turn out. This was absolutely one of my favourite reads in a long time.
Without a doubt, 5 stars!
What a great way to start off Into the Archives April! With a 5 star, now-my-favourite book. This, my friends, is why I wanted to feature historical fiction.
Amulet Books, the publisher of In the Shadow of Blackbirds, has graciously agreed to provide one lucky US/Can winner with a finished copy of the novel! Trust me, you want this book. Not only was it incredible (see the glowing review above), but the physical book itself is gorgeous. The photos, the chapter headers, the blackbirds... everything was done so well.
Some Rules (aka the not so fun but important part):
~ This giveaway is open to residents of the US and Canada only.
~ No P.O. boxes.
~ Must be 13 or older to enter.
~ Winner will be chosen randomly and contacted via email. The winner has 48 hours to respond to my email, otherwise they forfeit their prize and I will choose another winner, who must abide by the same rules.
~ Amulet Books, Cat Winters, and I are not responsible for lost or damaged packages.
~ No cheating! In this case, I have the right to disqualify entries as I see fit.
~ By entering the giveaway, you are agreeing to these rules.
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