In the Shadow of Blackbirds

In the Shadow of Blackbirds

A Novel

Book - 2013
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In San Diego in 1918, as deadly influenza and World War I take their toll, sixteen-year-old Mary Shelley Black watches desperate mourners flock to séances and spirit photographers for comfort and, despite her scientific leanings, must consider if ghosts are real when her first love, killed in battle, returns.
Publisher: New York : Amulet Books, c2013
ISBN: 9781419705304
141970530X
Branch Call Number: YA WIN
Characteristics: 387 p. :,ill. ;,22 cm

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SCL_Justin Aug 03, 2017

In the Shadow of Blackbirds, by Cat Winters, was a “holy cuss that was great” YA historical/sf novel. It’s set in San Diego in October 1918 with fresh-faced teenage boys heading off to die in the war and the Spanish Influenza killing everyone else.

Mary Shelley Black is a 16-year-old girl who’s just fled to her aunt’s home because her father’d been arrested back in Portland for helping young men escape the draft. Down in San Diego, where Mary Shelley’s childhood friend (and first kiss) was a young photographer before heading off to France, she gets caught up in a world of superstition, spirit photography and death. She’s got a scientific mind and hates all these frauds that surround her, until something happens. Which I won’t spoil.

I loved this book so much. I think what I loved most was that it kept knocking my expectations off-kilter. I thought it was going to be a story about this practical skeptical girl staying steadfast in her belief in facts and waiting for her true love to come home from the war and her father to get out of jail. Then I thought it was going to become a story of rebellion against her young widowed aunt (who works building battleships and is distraught she had to cut her hair and lose so much of her femininity for going to séances) who believes too much in what other people say. Then I was scared it was going to turn into a wide-eyed ghost story, and then I was happy to see it become a mystery. It didn’t settle into a pattern early.

One of the things they say about writing is to start as late as you can. Have the most interesting thing happen right at the beginning and then you can fill in backstory later. Though Mary Shelley’s father is arrested pretty much on the first page, there are other later parts where the story maybe could have started. But I’m so glad it didn’t. The way this skeptical heroine was set up in the beginning would not have worked as well as backstory. Seeing her before and after for ourselves was, in my mind, integral to the layers of shifting belief and the scientific mindset on display throughout what is to be honest a ghost story.

Along with being a historical ghost story, it also feels apocalyptic with the flu and all that death and folk-remedy hanging over everything. Plus it’s got this great anti-war activist stance running through it. It’s not anti-heroism, but it calls out so much of the adventure story bullshit. The heroes in this story are all about these basic acts of decency in a world that’s sick.

So yes, this is highly recommended.

s
SashaE
Aug 27, 2016

This was an amazing and a can't-put-down book.
I loved it and it was just very good.

A whip smart heroine, Spiritualist photography, and a paranormal love story set in the tumultuous year of World War I AND the Spanish Influenza. Really well-researched and well-written. Spooky and atmospheric. I really enjoyed this one.

d
dtaggard
Oct 20, 2015

This was an amazing book that captured the fear and hopeless emotions of 1918 mixed with paranormal experiences.

b
Birdbox
Jul 07, 2015

This is a really good book for those who like dark books. It is linked to historical events in a fictional story. The author sets the scene well displaying the harshness of past society. It is a good book that is written well, and draws the reader into reading it.

Kereesa May 27, 2015

This gave me chills down my spine and a smile to my lips. I have been wanting a paranormal historical novel ever since devouring AGATB several years ago. This one almost made me forget dear Libba's words. Almost.

m
mbssmith
Apr 03, 2015

I loved this book. I loved Mary Shelley and the element of photography. I also enjoyed Mary's goggles and the themes they brought up. I was not a fan of the character development of Aunt Eva, and her constant pestering about Stephen, but overall this was a very good book. I loved the ending and the solution.

n
naw666
Jan 08, 2015

Loved this book! I read it last year and it has stayed in my memory. Enjoyed reading about the great influenza of 1918 and also the description of gorgeous Coronado Island (which I plan to visit some day). And the dialogue made me feel as if I were living back in that era. Hope there's a sequel. :)

f
falconroom
Apr 30, 2014

A ghost/love/mystery story that starts out quite slowly & a bit confusingly (who is this young woman with her goggles (steampunk?) and what is she doing with ghosts appearing in her photos and in her life? But about 1/3 way thru the love story & maddening ghost story grabs you; the rest of the novel I devoured. Good scary night reading!

c
ckaterun
Aug 15, 2013

This is a fascinating work of historical fiction. It interweaves three strands--World War I, the Spanish Flu epidemic, and the spiritualist movement. Beyond that, it is gripping and a bit romantic. Great character development.

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Birdbox
Jul 07, 2015

A few weeks after arriving to stay with her aunt to escape the flu, science minded Mary shelly is thrown into a world of chaos. Flu victims are hauled down the streets in wagons and men die every day fighting in world war II. To add to that, Mary Shelly begins to hear the spirit of her childhood friend. Determined to out his spirit to rest, Mary dives into a world of chaos, seances and desperate photographers.

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