30. July 2013 · Comments Off · Categories: Courtney, Historical Fiction, Paranormal, Teen Books

In the Shadow of Blackbirds by Cat Winters, 387 pages, read by Courtney, on 06/25/2013

The year is 1918. World War One rages on while the Spanish Influenza outbreak reaches epidemic proportions. Mary Shelley Black has been sent to live with her aunt in San Diego in an attempt to keep her out of the flu’s reach (and because her father has just been arrested for his anti-war efforts). Once there, she is reunited with old friends, in particular, a pair of brothers named Stephen and Julian. Stephen and Mary have some history together and quickly begin a relationship. Until Stephen has to leave for war, having signed up before Mary’s return to San Diego. Julian, on the other hand, has been taking the war and flu outbreak in stride with his photography business, which is making quite the income with its new direction: spirit photography. Mary, being the clever young lady she is, has serious doubts about the entire spiritualist movement in spite of her aunt’s insistence on Julian’s talents. Stephen dies just months after leaving, which prompts Julian to pressure Mary to sit for another photograph, claiming that Mary has unique spiritual magnetism. Mary is dubious until she gets herself struck by lightning and finds that her senses are now telling her that everything she thought she knew may, in fact, be completely in question.
This book is a very interesting mix of historical fiction, mystery and paranormal intrigue. Mary as a character is utterly charming and witty, which is so very necessary given her context. 1918 was indeed a very scary year for many Americans. Loved ones went off to fight in a brutal war, while those left at home dealt with the constant threat of the flu. So many had already died from both that spiritualism made a giant comeback (having been popularized in both the Civil War and Victorian eras). Mediums and photographers made a living off of the desperate survivors of both tragedies. The setting makes perfect sense for a supernatural spin as well. Both the historical and the paranormal contexts are aided by period photos throughout the book. Even the cover is absolutely contextual, which I love. “In the Shadow of Blackbirds” is a fascinating mashup of history, romance, the supernatural and mystery. Highly recommended.

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