Review: In The Shadow of Blackbirds by Cat Winters

Image from Fantastic Fiction

Image from Fantastic Fiction

Title: In The Shadow of Blackbirds
Author: Cat Winters
Publisher: Amulet Books
Publication Date: 2 April 2013
Source: Review Copy
Rating: 4/5

Synopsis from Fantastic Fiction

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.


In the Shadows of Blackbirds is set in 1918 and immediately I think of World War One and trench warfare. It didn’t even cross my mind to think about the Spanish influenza epidemic yet it did cross Cat Winter’s mind and this novel centres on this, as well as the spiritual photography obsession which also gripped the times.

This novel is far from happy or pleasant, it’s packed full of horrifying events, morbid tales and basically shows 1918 for the terrible year that it was. It’s an interesting mix of the paranormal and historical genres although I think it falls more comfortably into historical overall as the paranormal aspects are based on events which are historically evidenced. The novel is made even more enjoyable and comes alive due to the photographs included, with some of people trying to avoid the influenza epidemic through wearing masks and others of soldiers in the trenches.

Mary Shelley Black is a great narrator although I’m not really keen on the author’s choice of name. As with many leading female characters her brains are only matched by her beauty (aren’t they always?) and she has a sharp way with words which helps her get through all her heartache and pain.

The paranormal events she experiences are vividly drawn and almost believable at times as Stephen keeps visiting her and the ghostliness in these scenes will send a shiver down anybody’s spine. I’m not really a fan of modern paranormal fiction but the historical element made this extremely enjoyable.

My favourite scenes are those where Mary is visiting the injured soldiers, mainly due to my interest in the social side of war history.

The conclusion is shocking, horrific and worse than anything I could have imagined. It serves a stark reminder to the fact that things are not always what they seem.


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1 Comment

  1. Avatar

    I really like this review. I loved this book so much and I’m glad you enjoyed it!

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