Friday 29 March 2013

In The Shadow of Blackbirds by Cat Winters

The day before my father’s arrest, I read an article about a mother who cured her daughter of the Spanish flu by burying her in raw onions for three days.
Pages – 400
Published by Amulet Books on the 2nd of April 2013
Goodreads Summary
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?
As soon as you hold this book in your hand, you feel an eerie  presence about it. There is something rather dark and Gothic about the presentation, that only grows upon you as you flick through the pages. Every few chapters you come across an old black and white picture that will shock you a little. Each photo represents events from around 1918 and show how America dealt with the Spanish influenza epidemic that swept through the country killing millions.
This book is the story of Mary Shelley Black, named after the Frankenstein author by her parents. The story is told in first person and you follow Mary’s journey to discover what really happened to Stephen, her one and only love. Stephen has been shipped off to war and she desperately awaits his return, only when he does come back, mystery surrounds him. The strong bond between Mary and Stephen, is a mixture of beauty and obsession. At times you feel that Mary is in great danger, however the way she holds herself strong, she never lets fear take hold of her.
I loved Mary, she was an utterly fascinating character. She has a strong analytical mind, which allows her to break everything down into components to find the truth. If she was around in modern society, I would wonder whether she might just be tested for autistic tendencies, but during the time period set, it would not have ever been raised as an issue. I loved her voice! She had such a way of getting the truth out of others. She had a no nonsense attitude to her and could always see the truth hiding behind lies.  Now I haven’t ever read the Flavia De Luce books, but I have heard a lot about the character and I would definitely say that Mary may be an older version of her. If you like the Flavia books, I really think you will enjoy this one.
The story is intriguing from the start and raises issues concerning the belief in spirits right from the start. The book explores the world of séances and we get to learn so much about the popularity at the time of spirit photographers, which is a subject I have very rarely come across in the past. The book also looks at the hysteria that surrounded illness. The way people came up with ludicrous solutions to keep the flu at bay. I don’t think I have ever heard of so many different ways to use onions!
I was completely  lost in this story and read the whole book in two days. It is definitely one I want to hand out to people and insist they read. I absolutely loved this book and I was quite taken with how wonderful it truly is. Definitely a  dark horse that needs to be explored further.


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