Zombie, post-apocalyptic and dystopian books are like shoes - you can never have enough.
From the moment I read the synopsis of In the Shadow of Blackbirds, I knew I had to read it. Historical-romantic-ya-viral-paranormal-fiction? Yup, this had my name all over it, in big pink sparkly letters. And when I received my copy and saw the presentation of the ARC, I was even more excited - the black and white photographs really add another level of spooky-realism to the book.
It's not often I talk about covers (not that I don't love awesome covers mind you!), but I think it's important to mention just how closely the cover ties into the story. It sometimes feels like covers are made pretty just to grab our initial attention, without being completely relevant to the book, but in this case it is definitely integrated into the story, and I had to keep closing the book to look at the cover again.
Mary Shelley is a very unique character - fascinated with electricity, she's brave, smart, loyal and curious, all of which added up to make her a very endearing character, and she really helped to bring all the genre-elements together in a cohesive fashion. Her friendship-come-romance with her childhood sweetheart, Stephen was so beautifully written it really felt like they were characters made to be with each other.
The plot itself is beautifully twisty, and I was hooked from the first page. Throw in some spiritualist photographers (which absolutely fascinated me) and a seance, along with descriptions of the Spanish Influenza's impact on the city, and everything is beautifully tied together. Having so many genres and sub-genres in one book and having them work in harmony is no mean feat, and Ms. Winters has done an exceedingly good job with In the Shadow of Blackbirds - nothing feels like it's thrown in just to get attention.
I was completely immersed in 1918 America - the descriptions of the Influenza, the horrors of the war and the returning soldiers, the desperation of people to have one last contact with their loved ones through whichever means necessary.
The writing is straightforward, but fits perfectly with the time period, really evoking a sense of being in the world that Mary Shelley inhabits. Although her characters are a little less than conventional, Ms. Winters makes them all work very well together.
In the Shadow of Blackbirds completely surpassed all of my expectations - Cat Winters' debut is absolutely magnificent.