Book Review: In the Shadow of Blackbirds

In the Shadow of Blackbirds
Published By: Amulet Books
Publication Date: April 2, 2013
Page Count: 400
Source: ARC Kindly Provided by Publisher via NetGalley
Audience: Young Adult - Historical Fiction/Paranormal

I'm a huge fan of historical fiction and paranormal stories, but rarely do I get the treat of having the two genres blended together in one delicious package. I have been excited to read this one since the moment I heard about it. My ridiculously high expectations for this one were met with historical details, photographs, descriptive prose, heart breaking characters, and chills. I would suggest keeping tissues handy; this one did a number on my emotions.

I have to admit that I was freaked out on more than one occasion by this novel. There were several moments when I had to stop reading because my imagination was running so wild that I was giving myself nightmares. This novel is one that will certainly mess with your head a bit - especially if you choose to read it on dark, rainy nights like I did. Might I suggest reading this one in daylight hours full of sunshine? It isn't truly scary, but there was something about the combination of the time period and plot points that gave me the creeps.

The setting of 1918 was intriguing. I know very little about WWI and even less about the Spanish Influenza epidemic. Sadly, my mind turned instantly to Edward Cullen. Lame, I know. He was the only person (fictional or otherwise) that I could recall being involved in the event. I was happy to see that Winters had done her historical research. The time period is accurate and infused with additional elements to heighten the suspense. I enjoyed learning more about the flu and how people attempted to prevent it. Some of their remedies didn't make much sense to me and inspired research of my own. I was particularly fascinated by the excessive use of onions. To my surprise, I discovered that this was not some odd obsession of the author's, but rather something people began using to combat airborne illnesses during the Plague. Amazing how fear often brings out superstitions that seem archaic.

I was further fascinated by the attitude of people during this time of mass hysteria and fear. There were moments of goodness and kindness, but these were often overshadowed by greed. Many saw this tragic part of history as their ticket to riches. Seances and spirit photography were extremely common. The grief stricken flocked to the purveyors of these services seeking an end to their emotional torment. People truly believed that the spirit of their deceased loved ones would visit them or be visible within the photographs. I cannot begin to imagine what living through this time period would have been like so I cannot possibly judge people who chose to believe in such things. However, I can understand that grief and loss could cause people to seek help from any venue available to them. In the Shadow of Blackbirds does a phenomenal job of posing answers to the age old question of what happens to us when we die.

One of my favorite aspects of this novel was the main character, Mary Shelley Black. I found her to be fascinating and inspiring. She doesn't fit the traditional mold of a female during this time period. She's a bit of a tomboy and she's interested in science and mechanics. Her aunt often comes home to find her taking apart household appliances and putting them back together for fun. She also craves books - especially since the flu has shut down all the schools. Mary Shelley is spunky, intelligent, and intensely loyal. I also loved that throughout the novel I had trouble discerning what was really happening and what was occurring within Mary Shelley's head. There was more than one occasion when I was convinced that she had the flu and was hallucinating. 

Finally, the mystery surrounding Stephen kept me guessing up until the very end. I had several theories, but none of them proved to be true. I love it when an author can keep the truth hidden from me until the final chapters. 

I would highly recommend this one - especially to fans of WWI, historical fiction, and ghost stories. 

One Last Gripe: There were some segments in the middle that dragged a little bit for me, but otherwise I adored this book.

My Favorite Thing About This Book: I loved the historical elements.

First Sentence: The day before my father's arrest, I read an article about a mother who cured her daughter of the Spanish flu by burying her in raw onions for three days.

Favorite Character: Mary Shelley Black

Least Favorite Character: Julius

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.


  1. This is my next read. I got the ARC at NCTE in November and have been working my way down my TBR pile. Can't wait to get started, I'm even more excited after reading your review.

    1. It's soooo good! I can't wait for it to hit the shelves.

  2. Great review, Andrea. I'm hoping to get to this next week. Sounds so good!

    1. Thanks for checking out the review. I'd love to hear your thoughts on this one once you have had a chance to spend some time with Mary Shelley Black. :)


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