Published by Amulet Books on April 2, 2013
Genres: Historical FIction, Paranormal
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.
When I first read the synopsis of the book, I had no idea how the title might tie into the story. Maybe it was a metaphor? The answer (or a piece of it) becomes clear about a third of the way through, and it sends Mary Shelley down a dangerous path to uncover the truth.
Winters creates a fantastic atmosphere of fear. It seems that death is lurking around every corner, and Winters’ descriptions of overrun funeral homes, ambulances with day-long waiting periods, and people with gauze-covered faces to ward off germs capture the feeling perfectly. Mary Shelley is cautious, but not paranoid, while Aunt Eva is in full-on panic mode. People drape themselves in garlic and onion to ward off the flu, and I can’t help but wonder what commonly-held beliefs we have today that will be debunked ten, fifty, or one hundred years from now. If you don’t make a habit of reading the author’s notes, you should do so in this case. I was particularly interested in how much of this time period was fact or fiction (yes, I should probably already know this!), and it’s clear that Winters’ research was thorough and meticulous. I got a kick out of a restaurant that served “liberty steaks,” because no one wanted to be associated with German-sounding hamburgers. It brought to mind the ridiculousness of “freedom fries” shortly after 9/11. Remember when we were all supposed to be angry at the French? The more things change…
In the Shadow of Blackbirds crosses over various genres: romance, historical fiction, paranormal, and suspense. All are done well, but my favorite was Mary Shelley’s romance with the doomed Stephen, portrayed in flashback. It is sweet and passionate and filled with longing. It’s easy to see how Mary Shelley could be consumed by Stephen, both in life and in death.
Note – I received an ARC from the publisher for review.
Review posted at Goodreads