Skip to main content

In the Shadow of Blackbirds


In the Shadow of Blackbirds

It’s the year 1918; the Spanish flu and the Spanish-American war are battling human existence. Death is knocking at everyone’s door. Cat Winters brings you so close inside of her story that you can taste the stench of onions wafting through the air to ward off the deadly flu. Her imagery is grotesque yet exquisite. The sweaty, feverish flu victims become so real you’ll think the book is contagious.

"Winters entices all five of your senses while you read, and she will urge your sixth sense to emerge as well."

Cat Winters writes about a 16-year-old girl who lives in the middle of all this turmoil; her name is Mary Shelley Black. She moves in with her Aunt Eva because her father has been imprisoned and the flu got the best of her mother. Aunt Eva is about 10 years older than Mary Shelley is and is terrified of the flu germs --- she boils onions everyday and makes Mary Shelley consume them with her so they can become immune to the virus.

Aunt Eva adores the spirit photographer, Julius Embers. Julius photographs people that sit in his studio, and he claims that he can conjure spirits for the photos. Mary Shelley thinks he is a fraud, but her aunt believes he is a genius. Aunt Eva convinces Mary Shelley to sit for a photo to prove that she has spirits around her. The only reason why Mary Shelley agrees to go to Julius’s studio is because of the chance to see his younger brother, Stephen, the love of her life. But actually, Julius and Stephen despise each other; Stephen claims that Julius is a fraud even though the expert photograph analyst, Mr. Darning, says that Julius is 100% real.

Regardless of his relationship with his brother, Stephen is ecstatic when Mary Shelley walks in the door, giving her a photograph of a butterfly that he took. The title of the piece is “Mr. Muse” and Stephen explains that it is an anagram to keep his brother from knowing what his photos are really about. Mary Shelley and Stephen used to play anagram games when they were little. She guesses “Mr. Muse” is “Summer,” and Stephen passionately kisses her. He tells her he adores her and  also that he has bad news: he is going to fight in the war.

Mary Shelley is devastated by Stephen’s decision to go to war. Aunt Eva tells her she is too young to be in love and not to get her hopes up. A few days go by and Mary Shelley agrees to sit for another spirit photograph from Julius. During the session, loud bangs erupt from the upstairs bedroom in Julius’s home. Julius’s mother runs downstairs and screams. Suddenly, Julius forces everyone to leave, and he seems furious. The next day, a package arrives to Mary Shelley’s door. It is another one of Stephen’s photographs; this time it is a lightening bolt. The anagram reads, “I Do Loose Ink” in bold letters. Mary Shelley has no idea what this means but understands it is a code for her to decipher. Shortly after the photograph arrives, Mary Shelley soon sees spirits herself and cannot believe her own eyes.

Cat Winters’s IN THE SHADOW OF BLACKBIRDS is a beautiful love story that takes a tragic turn. She creates a way to have science and spirituality converge and bloom into a beautiful tale. Winters entices all five of your senses while you read, and she will urge your sixth sense to emerge as well.

Reviewed by Sheena Kowalski on April 26, 2013

In the Shadow of Blackbirds
by Cat Winters

  • Publication Date: April 2, 2013
  • Genres: Young Adult 12+
  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Amulet Books
  • ISBN-10: 141970530X
  • ISBN-13: 9781419705304