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?
First sentence: “I stepped inside the railroad car, and three dozen pairs of eyes peered my way.”
NOOOOO. WHY DID I READ THIS? AHHHH. DON’T GET ME WRONG. IT’S REALLY GOOD, BUT GAHHH. I’M SCAREEDDDD.
Do you know that I dislike books that are about ghosts or spirits? REALLY. In the Shadow of Blackbirds is a book I was hesitant to read because of the ghost aspect. I’m a big scaredy cat! *Meow* I knew I was going to spend the majority of my time cowering under my covers when I read it. And that’s exactly what happened. It wasn’t a good idea to read it right before I went to sleep. REALLY BAD IDEA.
But you know what, I soldiered on. (Ha, pun not intended.) I was absolutely fascinated by the mystery in the book – what happened to Stephen Embers? What blackbirds is he talking about? I had to get to the bottom of the story. Ghost or no ghost, I was gonna find out about Stephen Ember’s suspicious death!
I really liked Mary Shelley. I loved seeing the progression of Mary Shelley’s belief in ghosts – she completely wrote it off at first, but she eventually realized that maybe they do exist. I liked that Mary Shelley is very handy with tools; she can fix things like Stephen’s broken camera. However, despite my likes, I was a bit annoyed at her for what she did during the lightning storm. I thought was very cheesy dramatic and eye-rolling worthy and so goddamn stupid. Like what the hell? Oh, and [spoiler]it’s cool that she gained the power to feel Stephen’s presence and to have a calming effect when she touches people after momentarily dying from a lightning strike, but that’s it. We don’t delve into the extent of her abilities[/spoiler] and I thought that was incredibly disappointing.
Surprisingly enough, I actually enjoyed the romance. The past couple of YA books I read, I was instantly turned off by the romance, but with Mary Shelley and Stephen, I thought their relationship was cute. They were there for each other when they were little when other kids avoided them or made fun of them. I’m a sucker for childhood friends. ‘Nuff said.
I found the relationship between Stephen and his brother, Julius, fascinating. These two brothers do not get along, mainly because of Julius’s jealousy and bullying. I was always suspicious of Julius. Not only because of how he treated Stephen, but how he acted around Aunt Eva and Mary Shelley. He was extremely creepy and obviously had hidden motives that weren’t really hard to see.
I think Stephen’s mysterious death would’ve be more obvious to me if I hadn’t been scared out of my wits. The scenes portraying what happened to Stephen had me on the edge of my seat. That was when everything truly picked up. I just had to know what happens next. Everything prior to it paled in comparison to all the revelations.
These are some things I wanted to see in the book –
- Speed up the pace so we can focus on where Stephen really was when he died. (The book spent so much time on “Is Stephen here? What is he saying?” Basically filler chapters that show nothing of real importance to the story. We don’t get the real gritty stuff until a little more than half way into the book.)
- More commentary on World War I. (I really enjoyed reading Mary Shelley’s and Stephen’s thoughts on the war because it was completely rational. War doesn’t make any sense, especially considering this line in the book “Anybody can be seen as a hero, murderer, victim depending on how you looked at the situation.” Also, the thoughts on shell shock in this book were on point. It totally broke my heart.)
- More about Spiritualism. (Very surprised I’m saying this. :P)
- The dialogue between Stephen and Mary Shelley to be less cheesy (but it doesn’t totally turn me off).
- Mary Shelley’s obsessions. (More of what she loves – science, machinery, books, etc.)
- Julius being less predictable. (I wanted him to be more than he seemed and not turn into who he was at the end of the book because it was extremely predictable. He was straight-up creepy and sad.)
- Mrs. Embers. (We never see her because [spoiler]she was sent to the sanitarium after Stephen’s death[/spoiler] .)
Don’t be fooled by things I wanted to see in the book. It’s not saying I don’t like the book. Quite the opposite. I really liked it. I just saw some things that I wanted see more of and less.
Cat Winters does an excellent job of balancing Mary Shelley’s story with the history of 1918. I rarely read historical fiction, but I love when authors are able to portray a realistic world and when the author sets the story in a time period I love. In the Shadow of Blackbirds is so much more than a ghost story even though it’s a really interesting aspect of the story. It certainly questions the existence of it and examines the lengths that people go to: 1. prove that they do exist, 2. prove that they do not and that it’s all a hoax, 3. believe in something greater to escape the atrocity of the War and the Flu. People do some pretty desperate things. This is not an extremely scary book, not unless you scare easily.