Book Review of In the Shadow of Blackbirds by Cat Winters

Posted March 29, 2013 by Kara in Kara / 21 Comments

Publisher: Amulet
Release Date: April 2nd, 2013
Genre: Young Adult-Historical, Paranormal
Pages: 400
Source: Netgalley

Description from GoodreadsIn 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.

Review: In the Shadow of Blackbirds was a really unique read for me. The main reason being that it covers a couple of topics that I had never read about before and I don’t think are written about often. The Spanish Influenza, spirit photography, and World War I. Okay so maybe there are a lot of World War I reads, but I guarantee it’s not often you find one like this that weaves all these interesting subjects into something so macabre, spooky, bleak, and all-immersive. 

First thing you should know about this book? It was incredibly well-researched. I like to look things up while I read because I have this thing about learning as I go (especially when it’s on subjects I know very little about), and everything I looked up was accurate to what the book stated. Yet somehow she manages to make it all come together and feel so real that for most of the book I felt like I was inside the pages, living in this time and these characters. It’s a cliched thing to say, but they truly do jump right off the page and become living, breathing beings. Not only do they jump off the page, but so does the setting, which is a major character in itself.

Mary Shelley is a wonderful character–strong and genuine, and the kind of character you would want solving a mystery for you if you had one to solve. Everything that she did and had happen to her was believable. And some of it was sad and truly, truly frightening, but it only served to strengthen her as I continued to read. Her relationships with all the other characters really helped create this realistic feel (especially those with her aunt and the soldiers), and part of that was because the dialogue was just sooo well-written. Seriously, I have not been this impressed with dialogue in a book in a long time.

But as much as I loved this atmospheric and haunting story, there was a couple of things that kept it being epic for me. And they actually go hand in hand so hear me out for a sec. It was the pacing. I was incredibly bored in the beginning because the book didn’t get going fast enough for me. I don’t believe I was fully hooked until page 80 something and it may have even been a little further in than that. As much as I love details and exposition, this book was a little too bogged down by all the history. I could have done with maybe 20 pages less and I think the pacing would have been much improved. See? Goes hand in hand. 

That being said, despite the few small issues I had, this is definitely probably going to be a favorite 2013 read for sure, and one I can wholeheartedly recommend. It was fun reading about a time period I was not familiar with and how utterly terrifying it was to live during the Spanish Influenza. It was so sad. But also compelling, and all the stuff about spirit photography and fraud was something I had always been interested in learning more about. I kinda love those books that you enjoy that make you learn something along the way. In the Shadow of Blackbirds definitely has my seal of approval.

Incidentally, if you are not a fan of the cover (like I wasn’t before reading), after you finish the book you will understand and love it. It’s a very important scene from the book. And now the cover makes sense and I kinda love it.

4/5 Dragons

21 responses to “Book Review of In the Shadow of Blackbirds by Cat Winters

  1. This one sounds really interesting! I don’t know a whole lot about the Spanish Influenza, and I’ve read a bit about Spirit Photography but not much. Although most people know that I’m a total history nerd, so of course that aspect of it really appeals to me lol. I’ll definitely be adding it to my TBR list!

    Great review as usual 😀


  2. Amy

    This sounds really interesting. At first I wasn’t all that interested in reading it, but the more reviews I see, the more I kind of want to. And of course 4 dragons from you is fabulous so I might have to get this one!! Awesome review!

  3. I think this is the only non-five-star review I’ve seen for this one, which speaks volumes since you have it four stars yourself! I can’t wait to finally read this one as I’m a huge fan of historic fiction and this sounds right up my alley. I’ll keep in mind the pacing issues, though, since I often have trouble with that in my books as well. Great review, Kara! 🙂

    • It picks up pretty fast once you get past that point. And Sam commented below and told me they altered the beginning so maybe those issues have been fixed. I can’t wait to hear your thoughts!

  4. I can’t believe I hadn’t really heard of this title. O.o But now I’m interested for sure. Fantastic review! The synopsis says it features archived photos. Does that mean it’s a bit like Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children–with photos throughout the story? I have to admit I like that idea. It would be fascinating to see them, though I think for a book like that I would prefer having a physical copy. 🙂 And so glad to see that it has great dialogue. Sometimes characterization and dialogue will really make or break a book for me. I look forward to picking this one up sometime either way. Adding it to my list!


    • Yes, there are photos throughout the story. But not as many as Miss Peregrine’s. But they are just as interesting for sure.

      The dialogue and characterization is great in this one. I definitely think you will enjoy it.

  5. Wasn’t Edward Cullen dying from Spanish Influenza before Carlisle changed him into a vampire? That’s about all I know of Spanish Influenza in YA books! Seriously though, this really does look good–glad to hear!!!

  6. Since you know me already, I think it totally won’t freak you out if I’m like oh yeah I totally love books about diseases like the Spanish Flu. ALSO! I do the exact same things with books that have things that interest me — I immediately hop on the wikipedia machine and lose hours of my life to learning. So cool.

    Anyways. This totally affirms my life choice to make In The Shadow Of the Blackbirds my next kindle read after Golden. SO YAY! YAY FOR AFFIRMING LIFE CHOICES! YOU GO GLEN COCO!

    • Yup, cults and diseases. That’s you! 😀 Yes, Google, Wikipedia, wherever I can learn, this is where I go!

      I hope you like it and I can’t wait for your review, April!

  7. I was completely enamoured with this book – I do agree that the first part wasn’t that fast-paced, but I was so intrigued I couldn’t put it down. And now I’m way more curious about spirit-photography than I would have been without reading this one.

    I loved how the cover tied into the story, that doesn’t happen often!

    • I was intrigued, but I was lacking interest a bit in the beginning. Basically, I feel I wasn’t as engaged as I could have been. But it might just be a me thing.

      Yup, it really doesn’t happen often. That was very cool.

  8. Sam

    I love looking things up as I read, too. I always think it’s great when a book makes me want to learn more – as this one did. I know the final book has a slightly different start, so maybe that will tackle the pacing issue you had. Really thrilled you liked this book otherwise, though. Funnily enough, I also felt the same way about the cover at first. Now, I love it.

    Great review, Kara!

    • I am so glad I am not the only one who does this. I thought I was a weird. I even have a Goodreads shelf called ‘I learned something’ for books such as this.

      Thank you for letting me know about the book changes. Maybe that will be improved!

      Cover twins! 😀

      Thank you!

  9. I want this so so bad! The reviews from bloggers I trust the most have been so favorable. It kills me I was declined for this one. Your review is the latest that has me mentally kicking the NetGalley gods.

    Immersive books are the best – and I love books that make you curious about the subject matter. It’s one of the reasons I love historical fiction so much! I don’t even mind a bit of a long set up as long as it works toward something, you know?

    Either way – I am glad you enjoyed this so much. Lovely, comprehensive review. As always.

    • I am so sorry you were declined for this one. That gives me a sad. I know you would have loved it.

      And I hope you still read it. Library, maybe? I KNOWWW you will like it.

  10. Ugh, I feel like the only one in the world who wasn’t a fan of this one. I ended up DNFing it because of the drastic character change after Mary Shelley got struck by lightning. Everything I loved about her went out the window after that.

    I did like the uniqueness of the book though. You’re right in that there are hardly any books about the Spanish flu, or WWI, or spirit photography. I mean, maybe there are, but it doesn’t seem like there are many in YA. So it was a lot of fun and very enlightening reading about the pandemic and the war. It’s not something I come across often.

    I wish I had gotten the chance to read a physical copy of it, because of the pictures. I feel like that would have been enough to hold my attention. 🙁

    • That’s weird that you mention it because I didn’t even notice a personality shift. Strange.

      Agreed. I love learning about all the topics covered in this book. Impeccable research as well.

      There really aren’t that many pictures in it. They showed up on my NG edition, and I loved them, but there were only a few.

  11. Awesome review. I’ve been so curious about this book, and you’re making me really excited about it now. I’ve GOT to read this amazing dialogue! And the spirit photography stuff is intriguing, for sure. This sounds like such a great read. I’m glad it’s coming out SOON! 😀

  12. Awesome review Kara, I am so happy you enjoyed this one overall!! I’ve been curious about this one since I first heard about it and every single detail you mentioned enjoying sounds brilliant to me 😀 The pacing bit is a bummer but as long as it eventually gets rolling it’s not too bad!

  13. My main problem with this book was that the formatting meant I could only read it on my computer rather than my nook-really slowed me down. I loved pretty much everything else especially trying to unravel the mystery around Stephen.

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