Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Jennavier Recommends: In The Shadow of Blackbirds by Cat Winters

Last summer I found a book that I was dying to push on people but I couldn’t find anyone who’d let me push it. Now I get to dig it up and tell you all about it!

Let’s start with the heroine. Mary is awesome. She’s a woman at odds with her time. She wants to be a doctor like her mom, but it 1918 that isn’t exactly an encouraged career choice. Her father was a ‘sympathizer’ which in todays parlance would be a pacifist. He’s been jailed for speaking out against the war and Mary has to go and live with her twenty-something aunt. Mary isn’t perfect. Sometimes she’s really irritating. She’s bound and determined to do what she thinks is right even if it clashes with what everyone else wants.

Everything she is becomes tested when her boyfriend comes to her as a ghost. Last she heard he was on the front line. Now he’s dead. And something is bothering him so much that he can’t find any peace. Mary is determined to find out what that is no matter the cost.

This story has a crazy, out of control amount of things in it. Cat Winters doesn’t just find one cool thing about history, she finds a dozen. First you have the first world war littered with PTSD and all it means. Next you get the Spanish Influenza, the last great flu epidemic in the US. All of this triggers one of the greatest Spiritualist movements in US history, something Mary is, of course, wrapped up in. This is the world of spiritualism, and séance’s are the norm. What's awesome is that Winters uses her narrative to show you that it wasn't real, while at the same time implying that some of it was.

Now that all sounds really heavy, and it is, but Winters navigates it in a way that is really enjoyable. She takes this creepy world and ratchets up the tension, without having to resort to the ridiculousness that many stories rely on. I loved that she takes things about history I never knew and makes them fascinating layers in a believable world.

Before finishing I just have to make a note of the book itself. This is one book that I would recommend finding in physical, not digital, form. The design of the hardcover I read is a work of art in itself. It was the first thing I noticed when I opened the cover and it really enhanced my reading experience.

I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

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