In the Shadow of Blackbirds by Cat Winters
Amulet Books, 2014; 416 pp
Reviewed by Juliana Amir
“And for a short while, the lure of scientific discovery blotted out the sea of masked faces on the train ride south, the purplish-black feet rattling in the back of that cart, my father getting punched in the gut in front of my eyes, and the first boy I’d ever loved fighting for his life in a trench in France.”
In the Shadow of Blackbirds is everything an author could hope to accomplish in her first book, and I can’t imagine how it slipped into the literary market without causing a greater stir. Set in the traumatic year of 1918, America is not only in the midst of a war, but also the Spanish flu. Against this dark and grueling backdrop, our protagonist, Mary Shelley Black is on a quest to find the truth, not only about her first love, but the greater mystery of the afterlife.
It seems steep for a sixteen-year-old protagonist, but in this story danger comes regardless of age. Perhaps, it is because of this danger and her spunky attitude that she is so easy to like and fun to follow. To balance her defiance is her worrywart aunt, whom she has come to live with. Luckily for Mary Shelley, her aunt has joined the war effort, so there is plenty of time for mischief and discovery.
I may have picked on this author in an earlier review for relying too heavily on a classic, so when I noticed the character’s name was Mary Shelley and she had a fascination with science and electricity, I thought ‘here we go’. It turned out the nod was so subtle, it was brilliant, and it was yet another line seamlessly woven into this historical fiction, mystery, paranormal romance, coming of age novel. Because of the way it is written, the genres it bends, and the message it carries, this book has quickly become my favorite of this year. I encourage anyone who enjoys historical fiction, with astonishingly accurate information, and the macabre to pick up In the Shadow of Blackbirds.