1920s Quaranteens: ‘In The Shadow Of Blackbirds’ Review

This is one of those books you find in the back of a Charity Shop… that’s surprisingly good.

Name: In The Shadow Of Blackbirds

Author: Cat Winters

Published: 2013

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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.

The blurb is very misleading. At first, I thought it was just your average cHiLliNg rOmAnCe between a teen and her dead boyfriend. However, I failed to spot the reviews on the back (albeit from quite suspicious -sounding small newspapers) that hailed it as ‘a psychotic masterpiece’ that expressed the ‘thin line between sanity and madness’. Oops. Although, now that I’ve read it, I wouldn’t go that far.

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The book began almost like the diary of an angsty teenager who’d been sent away to live with her aunt in the city – super original. But, In The Shadow Of Blackbirds was set near the end of World War 1… in the middle of the Spanish Flu Pandemic. It taught me a lot about the outbreak, which isn’t that well known (and also taught me that I’m thankful bathing in onions isn’t classed as a cure for Corona). It was interesting comparing it to what’s happening now, especially as the author obviously had no idea what 2020 would bring. Add seances, the 20’s obsession with spirit photography and a well meaning, if not badly named, heroine, and you’ve got a ‘psychotic masterpiece!’ Sort of.

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I’ve never understood the reason to put ‘a novel’. Like here: ‘A Novel by Cat Winters’. It’s not like I’m going to be staring at the book for hours, confused about what it is, and then I see the ‘novel’ and everything clicks into place. ‘So, it’s not just a lump of pages!’. But trust me: In ‘The Shadow Of Blackbirds’ wasn’t just a lump of pages.

I guess you have to read the… less good books to fully appreciate the amazing ones. Now, don’t get me wrong, I thought that the setting was very interesting; the plot was surprisingly engaging, especially as it turned into a sort of creepy murder mystery. At the start of every chapter, there were black and white photos – like this one. It was was cool, but you shouldn’t need fancy illustrations and fonts to make a book good. I also thought it might have worked better in the third person because the narration was pretty unlikely for a 16 year old. Still, In the Shadow of Blackbirds was a creepy mystery with a twist, and pretty good for a find in the back of a Charity Shop.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Published by Hundreds&Thousands

I’m a teenager from Manchester, and a proud Hufflepuff. I like oversized jumpers, indie music you’ve probably not heard of, and books. Honestly, any books I can get my hands on but my personal favourites are fantasy, mystery or your classic teenage romance (it’s ironic I know – but you can’t really go wrong with ‘A Fault in Our Stars’)! I’m always being told to go and ‘be active’ or something instead of sitting in my room reading and listening to the Smiths, but honestly I don’t see the point. Why would I want to go for a run when I could be reading Rainbow Rowell or Good Omens. And it’s Morrisey for god’s sake. So, I decided to do something with the growing piles of books in my room… and you’re reading the product! It’s a lot more interesting than I thought it would be and I really enjoy it – and I hope you do too. I try to write a review after I’ve read the book each week every Saturday, but no promises! The aim is hundreds and thousands of books (see what I did there?) but I’m not quite there. Yet.

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