Monday, April 29, 2013

In the Shadow of Blackbirds by Cat Winters

The year is 1919, and the world seems to be on the brink of the apocalypse. Young men are being shipped overseas to fight a world war, and coming home in a box...or worse. The Spanish flu is killing millions of people, striking without discretion or bias. It can hardly be a surprise that countless people turned to Spiritualism for comfort during these hopeless times. Spiritualism was a near-religious movement that involved the use of séances, spirit photography, and other means to contact people who have passed to the other side. The trouble was figuring out whether the Spiritualists were charlatans, or genuinely in contact with the dead.

At the beginning of In the Shadow of Blackbirds, Mary Shelley (Named after the author) was just sent away to the east coast to stay with her aunt. Mary Shelley's father had been arrested for anti-American sentiments after he helped several young men avoid the draft. She is a minor celebrity, as a photograph of her with a spirit is used to advertise the spirit photography business of Julian, brother of her sweetheart Stephen. Mary Shelley is an odd girl who enjoys science and taking apart machines. She never believed that Julian's pictures were real.

Then Stephen dies in the war, and strange things occur. Mary Shelley sees his ghost, and he tells her the most peculiar things about birds pecking out his eyes. She starts to believe in spirit photography, even attends a séance. It becomes clear that wherever he is, Stephen is definitely not at peace. As much as she doesn't want to lose him forever, Mary Shelley is determined to do whatever it takes to put the boy she loves to rest.

I am definitely the target audience for this book. The time period, the vintage photos, plus the addition of Spiritualism equals a book that is practically made for me. I loved all the historical details, like how Mary Shelley's aunt cooked nothing but onions to keep away the flu and the creepy descriptions of people on the street in their flu masks. When I was in college, I actually wrote a paper on spirit-rappers and I have always been a creepy kid who loved reading ghost stories (And was creeped out by photos of ectoplasm in old black and white pictures). I sort of hoped that the pictures would make this similar to Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, but the pictures here didn't really have much to do with the story (They were still pretty cool to look at). This was still a great book, a mixture of history, love story, and ghost story. It makes me want to do some research and write a paranormal teen romance set at Roanoke (TM to me, don't steal!) or something less lame.

I received my copy of In the Shadow of Blackbirds from Netgalley, courtesy of Amulet Books. It's available now for purchase.

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