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Sunday, April 12, 2015

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Review: In the Shadow of Blackbirds by Cat Winters (Insanity Much?)

In the Shadow of Blackbirds by Cat Winters

In the Shadow of Blackbirds
Cat Winters
Publication Date: April 2, 2013
Publisher: Amulet Books
Reviewer: Sophia

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 this random tendency to not write a review, at all, for Cat Winters' In the Shadow of Blackbirds, to which the copy at the library had an extremely sucky synopsis (though the design IS pretty):

In a city filled with the dead and dying,
while a nightmarish war rages halfway across the world,
the grieving look for answers in photographs and séances.

It's 1918. San Diego.
And a girl who doesn't believe in spirits
steps off the train and into a new life...

Apparently the one sentence synopsis provided by the publisher (yes, I read those) is a lot more helpful than this inside jacket cover synopsis, which gives a the book a mysterious aura that separates it from the other 2015-2016 Gateway Award Nominees.

The book, albeit a fantastically creepy concept, apparently goes from one end of the spectrum to the other end of the spectrum by the end of the book.

The so-called beginning of the spectrum I'm speaking of is the absolute, complete paranoia of the time period. Literally all of the characters depicted throughout the book was highly addicted to onions, spirit photography, or shunning the Germans. Of course, the more historical fiction and actual historical texts I read of World War I, I sometimes find it highly hilarious mainly due to the simple fact that Americans actually came from Europe and the majority of them have German blood (okay, a lot of ya'll have European blood). Funny how that actually works.

The only characters that I actually liked was Mary Shelley Black (thankfully the main character) and Stephen Embers (or rather, Live Stephen and not Dead Stephen, who actually spent a good few times squishing Mary Shelley). Both Mary Shelley and Stephen were more "adventurous" (logic and science) and tended to stray from the rest of the pack. On the unfortunate side... dear old Stephen Embers is apparently dead, which eventually results in the book being one of your typical ghost stories/shows where the dead have unfinished business.

However, in Stephen's case, all Mary Shelley seems to get from him is something about blackbirds - blackbirds attacking him.

The other end of the spectrum, as the book continues and Mary Shelley gets closer to finding out Stephen's "unfinished" business, is apparently the book going from the main character being the most logical and unparanoid one to being one of the paranoid ones. She goes from being one of the logical ones who reasons and questions everything to someone who "freaked" out over a cough or "drowning" herself in onions. Onions are apparently the garlic of the book while the vampire is the influenza.

Simply put, In the Shadow of Blackbirds started to become a little bit too "insane" for my taste and for me to handle at certain points until the very end. Cat Winters' debut novel was a chilling read that left me walking away feeling mainly satisfied with how Stephen and Mary Shelley eventually come to terms with their relationship.

4 Owls

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Sophia is the owner and founder of Bookwyrming Thoughts, but also found on various parts of the internet. She's a 19-year-old communications major who has weird humor and doesn't fit the Asian stereotype (maybe a little). Books, chocolate, technology, and music are among some of her favorite things. For more of her work, visit her personal website.