Monday, 19 August 2013

Review: In the Shadow of Blackbirds

In the Shadow of Blackbirds
Publication Date: April 2nd 2013        
Publisher: Amulet Books

 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?

I- what did I just read?
I've read a few Historical books lately, I kind of got sucked in after reading Maid of Secrets , but before that, and seeing what In the Shadow of Blackbirds was about, I decided it wasn't for me, and what a shame that would've been. After I've heard a load of things about it, I decided to try it, oh and I'm so glad that I did and I can honestly say I have never read anything like it. It was just...stunning and brilliant and original.
It's such a beautiful, beautiful book that's shrouded in mystery, and the cover just is, captures the essence and setting in one, along with holding true to the photograph. In the Shadow of Blackbird's is not for the faint hearted,  it's grim and grey and eerie, set in 1918 where death was in the air, on your street, in your house, and killed your co-workers, next-door neighbours, friends and family in the form of the Spanish Influenza. If that wasn't sombre enough, the middle of the first World War was going on, and our main character Mary Shelley Black's (named after the Mary Shelley) childhood friend Stephen Embers enlisted months ago.
With her mother dead at childbirth, and after her father gets arrested she fleas to live with her Aunt- and closer to Stephen, only Mary Shelley hasn't heard from Stephen in over three months- his letters simply stopped. His last known whereabouts in France and heartbreak awaits- and even more once her first love starts haunting her.
Cat Winter's covers a few important topics within 'Blackbirds, not just war and death, but the after effect the war put upon the soldiers who fought, their wives and family. This is something that always gets to me, it has to be done delicately, but harsh enough to give it justice, and it was done outstandingly, seriously and with a little injected dark humour.
My favourite class was always English Lit, especially when on war and believe it or not, I loved writing essays on Wilfred Owens' poems, one that I used for coursework, the one that always hit me, the one I sat and stared at for ages and spent hours on writing about (and also got an A on not bragging.   Just a little.) Disabled. I actually still have my The Charge of the Light Brigade by Alfred Lord Tennyson V's Disabled by Wilfred Owens on my laptop somewhere.
Anyway, there's also the obvious supernatural element with the captured spirit photography, and spirituality that was accepted and intriguing back then. How it lit a flame of hope in the people who were left behind and it resembled the hope they couldn't. The hope that though their loved ones dead, that they lived on somewhere, even if they didn't know it was real, and maybe they didn't truly believe, it's not a topic I can say I do or don't either, but it was a catalyst to get them through, to survive.
You can feel the desperation, the bleakness as they watch people die, everyday, the bodies on the street, the coffins building up. It wasn't all doom and gloom within the doom and gloom, some parts had me laughing, though they probably shouldn't, but I got so caught up in the story, that it did. Especially this, though in a frantic scene, it kind of lightened it for me.
"Kait," she muttered. "So kait. Grippe. Wilfredededed... mein Liebchen."
"Don't speak German, Aunt Eva. She's not even German, she's swiss."

It's also why I loved Mary Shelley, she really was truly unique character, she wasn't satisfied in just being, in just accepting. She wanted answers, and when she didn't get them, she sought them out herself. She wanted to be something, do something, she wasn't content in just sitting around and waiting to die, or waiting it out. She was clever, and outspoken. Her interest in science and technology, how things worked and how they could be improved and fixed. Her belief and trust and view on the world was truly an incredible one to see through, and ultimately her stubbornness and fervour for the truth- and peace for Stephen.
Oh, but Stephen. It truly hurt. Him and Mary Shelley were made for each other, and I wish they had more time together. It was just so sad and really, poor Stephen. I think he was a little naïve in what he was getting into, and it affected him deeply, but it was nice to see that back then-and now, the bravery of young men (and women) enlisting.

Aunt Eva, well, wasn't she a character? I couldn't help like her, even if I found her annoying at times because, you know, those onions. She was lonely and a little lost, but she was determined even if she was afraid, and she was really good to Mary Shelley.
I have nothing to say about Julius that cannot be said in polite company.

Like I said, In the Shadow of Blackbirds isn't  for the faint hearted,  it's definitely depressing and heart-breaking- but it's so, so stunning and it'll keep you reading through the darkness while you wish for the better, and ultimately it'll give you bittersweet peace.
Rating: 5/5