Tuesday, July 9, 2013
In the Shadow of Blackbirds
This book is set in World War I, in America, and scrapes at the situation on the home front.
I have two disclaimers for this book.
Disclaimer one: I do not know how historically accurate the book is, but I know that it is historical fiction as there are no 'based on a true story' garble anywhere in the book (to my knowledge). I'm also not completely up on my history because that's another subject that I'm mildly miserable at. History & Geography just tend to thwart me a lot.
Disclaimer two: I'm not sure of how people acted during that time period. There is a character, Aunt Eva, who seemed to go from distressed to calm in five seconds, and back to distressed in three seconds. I don't know if that was the writing style of that character or how people tended to act back in the day. Or if the character is just a little out of it.
Alright, an amazon 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?
Featuring haunting archival early-twentieth-century photographs, this is a tense, romantic story set in a past that is eerily like our own time." AMAZON LINK OF JUSTICE
Something neat about this book; periodically there were pictures that emphasized what had just happened in the chapter, but the pictures were never graphic in the gore sense, but graphic in the sense of emotionally moving. I want to believe they're actually from World War I, but I don't know if that means it's true.
Mary Shelley Black is the daughter of a man who helped boys escape the draft. Her father was a veteran from a war as well, and believed he was doing the right thing.
Mary Shelley Black is an oddity onto herself though; she likes science and mechanical objects (something almost unheard of in 1918, because Women's rights were relatively a new thing). She has a set of goggles that was sold to her on the promise that they would let her see the future, she often wears them around her neck. She's also inquisitive, and slightly fearless but I wouldn't call her reckless for the most part.
However, he was caught and the night he was taken away, he sent Mary Shelley Black to live with her Aunt Eva in San Diego. Her Aunt Eva was recently widowed, working in a factory to help with the war, and kind of a bit out of it. She also happens to be temporarily taking care of a magpie by the name of Oberon who always asks, "Who's there?" when someone enters the room.
Now Mary Shelley is in love with a boy by the name of Stephen, who happens to be the half brother of Julius; a man who takes spirit photography pictures. Stephen's father owned a photography studio and passed his love of photographs onto Stephen, where Julius simply wanted to make a profit.
Spirit photography itself was a big boom in 1918 as many grieving families wanted a photo with their lost family members. There were a lot of deaths between the Spanish Influenza and the boys dying overseas.
Mary Shelley visits Julius with her Aunt Eva who has taken a shine to Julius and learns that Stephen died overseas in the war. Mary is shocked and lost within herself as she recalls a tender moment the two of them shared (kissing) when they were interrupted by Julius and Julius declared to everyone else that Mary had lost her innocence (she hadn't). So Mary is inclined to dislike Julius.
After returning from Julius', Mary gets a telegram about her father; he's set to go on trial by the end of the week and will most likely be sentenced to jail for twenty years. It all becomes a bit too much for Mary and as a lightning storm brews overhead, she has an odd moment where she takes a kite, and a locket, and positions herself so she is struck by lightning.
She has an out of body moment and watches as the neighbors find her and summon an ambulance before she returns to her body after they had discovered her without a pulse. After a brief hospital stay, she is returned home to recover.
Then things grow to be even stranger.
Now, throughout the story there are chilling moments such as children playing on a pile of filled coffins, that constantly remind the reader that a war is going on, that it's horrible, and that nothing is quite alright. I appreciated the gravity that brought to the story; however, I have a few quibbles.
TO SPOILER LAND.
Aunt Eva is a character that I couldn't quite get behind. She was as flighty as a bird most of the time yet other moments she was tougher than steel. I didn't like her inconsistency, but I don't know for sure if that was a characteristic of the women at the time.
I did not like how there didn't seem to be any period slang present in the story. Everyone talked in a kind of polite manner that is easy to understand. While that is nice in the comprehending sense, I think it takes away from the rigidness of trying to be set in the time period of 1918. There were a lot of descriptions about the different clothes that people wore (especially Mary's) but there wasn't any period language. It was pretty disappointing, but then again The Diviners by Libba Bray might have spoiled me a bit.
I also felt the ending became very rushed as the truths were uncovered. I think it was kind of terrible that Aunt Eva contracted the flu, we saw the mad dashing around for twenty four hours, but then it was basically a plot device motivator for Mary to finally go to Julius' and see Stephen old bedroom to figure out what happened to him.
I wanted to see more Mary with the recovering veteran's at the Red Cross center. I thought that was a great way to put faces with the horror yet reconcile that they are still people and deserve to be treated as such. Only two scenes with them just wasn't enough for me.
Overall, I thought the book was mostly likable, I just have my quibbles. Haha!