Release Date: April 2nd, 2013
Genre: Young Adult-Historical, Paranormal
Description from Goodreads: 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.
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.