On Roanoke Island, the legend of the 114 people who mysteriously vanished from the Lost Colony hundreds of years ago is just an outdoor drama for the tourists, a story people tell. But when the island faces the sudden disappearance of 114 people now, an unlikely pair of 17-year-olds may be the only hope of bringing them back.
Miranda, a misfit girl from the island’s most infamous family, and Phillips, an exiled teen criminal who hears the voices of the dead, must dodge everyone from federal agents to long-dead alchemists as they work to uncover the secrets of the new Lost Colony. The one thing they can’t dodge is each other.
Blackwood is a dark, witty coming of age story that combines America’s oldest mystery with a thoroughly contemporary romance.
Gwenda Bond is the New York Times bestselling author of many novels. Among others, they include the Lois Lane and Cirque American trilogies, and the first official Stranger Things novel, Suspicious Minds. The Match Made in Hell series, which includes Not Your Average Hot Guy and The Date from Hell, are her first rom-coms for adults, and were followed by standalone Mr. & Mrs. Witch. Next up in 2024 are The Frame-Up, a magical heist book, and the first volume in The Wayward Sisters historical romance series.
She cofounded charitable efforts Creators 4 Comics and the Lexington Writer’s Room. Her nonfiction writing has appeared in Publishers Weekly, Locus Magazine, Salon, the Los Angeles Times, and many other publications. She has an MFA in writing from the Vermont College of Fine Arts. She lives in a hundred-year-old house in Lexington, Kentucky, with her husband and their unruly pets. There are rumors she escaped from a screwball comedy.
She writes a newsletter you can sign up for at gwendabond.substack.com. Visit her online at www.gwendabond.com or @gwenda on Twitter.
This had a very interesting premise. As someone who resides in the state of Virginia, my interest was piqued when I read the blurb and I knew I had to pick this up. The first 50% of the book was absolutely captivating; I couldn't put this down and I just had to know what was going to happen. While I didn't hate the ending, I did feel it was a bit jumbled and not quite what I was hoping for. I know for the right reader this will be a fantastic book, but it fell just a bit flat for me. If you're looking for a creepy story that's not TOO creepy, this may be the book for you. Full review to come.
*This was previously published under the title Blackwood.
Everyone likes a good mystery and one of the most mystifying events in American history has to be the disappearance of a colony of settlers from Roanoke Island, VA in the late 16th century. The entire settlement of 114 people just vanished. All that was left was the word CROATAN carved into a tree.
The disappearance of a colony of settlers makes a fascinating premise behind Gwenda Bond’s new book Blackwood. Basically, this story was a modern day retelling of the Roanoke Island disappearances. At a town play, the main character witnesses a dark presence. The next day, 114 people are missing. And so begins the story.
I was very excited to get a copy of this book. The cover was lovely. I was prepared to be wowed. Instead, I was left a little confused. I’m not a big fan of changes in fonts accompanied by shifts in time and points of view. Done right, the narrative flows. In this book, it was a little confusing. Not only do we have changes of view between the main characters, the island itself has its own point of view.
I actually liked the two main characters Miranda and Phillips. Miranda Blackwood is a down on her luck kind of girl. She is a bit of a recluse and an oddball. People do not treat Miranda well. Miranda’s family is cursed – she cannot even leave the island. Doing so causes her physical pain.
I found Phillips to be charming for a 17 year old boy. Phillips had the ability to hear spirits. This ability only manifests itself when he is on the island. The farther away from the island he gets, the less he hears the spirits. When Phillips sensed that Miranda was in danger, he felt the need to protect her. Phillips and Miranda work together to stop a malevolent presence from taking over the island.
Would I recommend this book? For me, it was just an OK read. I was just expecting more action, more mystery. I think that young adult readers may enjoy this book.
Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for a review copy of this book.
Book Info: Genre: Paranormal Romance/Historical-based Fantasy Reading Level: Young Adult Recommended for: Fans of YA romantic fantasy, with historical basis, and hints of paranormal/horror
My Thoughts: So, when I accepted this book, I saw “lost colony of Roanoke” but not “romance”… So I was a bit hesitant about reading it once I had realized it was defined as such. However…
“Miranda had a firm policy of never being the silly girl – the kind who went to see what noise that was, or who would believe she’d seen something no one else had.” I really liked Miranda. She has her moments, but overall she’s pretty sensible. Phillips is also pretty cool – he’s a bit of a bad boy, but a bad boy with a reason for being so.
“Her hand vibrated with invisible ick… She officially had devil cooties” There was a great deal of humor in the book – Miranda and Phillips both view life with a sardonic outlook and that comes through in the way they talk and interact. The mystery of Roanoke Island is part and parcel of their history, and they are both descended from members of that doomed (or was it?) expedition.
So, I was so surprised at how much I enjoyed this book. The romance was in the background and it was a fast-paced story with thrills and chills galore. I enjoyed the characters and the research the author put into the book. Recommended.
Disclosure: I received a free ARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.
Synopsis: On Roanoke Island, the legend of the 114 people who mysteriously vanished from the Lost Colony hundreds of years ago is just an outdoor drama for the tourists, a story people tell. But when the island faces the sudden disappearance of 114 people now, an unlikely pair of 17-year-olds may be the only hope of bringing them back.
Miranda, a misfit girl from the island’s most infamous family, and Phillips, an exiled teen criminal who hears the voices of the dead, must dodge everyone from federal agents to long-dead alchemists as they work to uncover the secrets of the new Lost Colony. The one thing they can’t dodge is each other.
Blackwood is a dark, witty coming of age story that combines America’s oldest mystery with a thoroughly contemporary romance.
There aren’t that many YA stories written around the legend of the Roanoke disappearances, or at least not many that I know of, so I’m always excited when I stumble upon one. Such was the case with Strange Alchemy by Gwenda Bond. I hadn’t heard of this book prior to it being reworked and rereleased. Formerly titled Blackwood, two teens are at the center of this book, Miranda Blackwood and Grant Rawlings, and they’re somehow tied and fated to be together when the centuries-old mystery of the disappearances comes knocking a second time around in present day.
Strange Alchemy was fairly enjoyable and I liked the characters for the most part, but throughout the duration, I had a hard time differentiating this particular novel from a series of novels written about the same legend. I wanted something new and something different, other than ancients alchemists, to set this one apart from the few others of its ilk, and I unfortunately didn’t get that. That’s not to say it was a bad book, because it truly wasn’t - it was well-written, the world and the characters were well drawn and thought out, but the plot and the mystery weren’t nearly as good as the rest of the story elements, and without a great plot and mystery, everything surrounding those two crucial elements feel just as flat.
Bottom line - Strange Alchemy turned out as just ok for me in the end, and while it didn’t appeal to me as much as I anticipated, it’s still a book that will appeal to many readers of varying tastes. Give it a try, especially if you enjoy the legend of the lost colony of Roanoke.
*eARC received via NetGalley in exchange for my honest opinion.
I really loved the idea of a traveling tattoo. Super creepy. I've always been fascinated with the disappearing colony of Roanoke. This was a cool explanation of how it might have all happened. Also love the dog! There are not enough dogs in books, I've decided. My favorite scene was the end which I won't spoil for you. =)
I tried to get into this book. I made it by God's grace to page 160 and could not go any further. I thought with it talking about the Lost Colony it would be a fantastic and interesting book. It was far from it. The characters were so bland and boring. It just didn't peak my interest what so ever.
I received this copy from the publisher via NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.
Release date 08/01/2017!
Miranda has never cherished her family's name. Blackwood held something sinister within its ancestry, but no one really knew what. Because of her last name, Miranda is accustomed to being ostracized---no thanks to the help of Grant Rawling's accusations towards her openly at school.
When 114 islanders go missing---the same amount of settlers who had originally vanished from Roanoke Island back in the 1500's---her path will be intertwined with Grant's in ways that she, or he, doesn't expect.
Caught up in the mysterious disappearances, the two quickly realize that they are part of a plot much bigger than themselves.
This is a re-imagining of the author's first book, Blackwood.
The first half of this book was absolutely arresting. I was so intrigued with the way the story was headed, and I needed to know what was going to happen!
Based upon the historical mystery of Roanoke Island's (and North America for that matter) first settlers, who all but vanished into thin air. It is speculated that they simulated into various Native American tribes, but no one knows for sure. It was also one of America's first colonial mysteries throughout the influx of European immigrants!
The cover is just as ominous and threatening as the tale being told. (I think it perfectly reflects it's contents.) From afar, the treeline looks like silhouettes of colonial-style homes along the shoreline. I don't know if this was the intended visual effect, but it works.
I think this book made me realize how much I enjoyed the mystery portion of it, because when the "fantasy" began appearing more and more, my interest level diminished---which is odd for me, because I love fantasy. I felt that the further the plot went into revealing the truth behind the mystery, the less detail and clarity accompanied it. This does not go to say that the backstory was bad, because it wasn't. I felt that it needed a lot more detail.
With that being said, I appreciate the author's interpretation on this colonial mystery. I could tell that she did her research, and combined it well with the story that she manifested. It was an interesting read.
Vulgarity: Minimal. Sexual Content: Besides some flirting and kissing, not much. Violence: Some, including "soul sucking."
A big thanks to the publisher for providing me with a copy of this book!
I’ve been wanting to read this for a while ever since I was approved of the ARC. So out of the blue, I decided to start it last night, aaaand I finished it at 4am [#proud]. I simply could not put it down! The writing was super easy to follow, the characters I adore, and I love all the pop culture references and quirky dialogues. I’ve been wanting to read more YA paranormal and mystery and THIS BOOK WAS IT! It has got a nice blend of historical touch and even though Yours Truly’s forte isn’t American history, I still really enjoyed this element.
From the detailed writing and the building-up of eerie atmospheres, Bond has done a phenomenal job at having me hooked! I love how the book has dual POVs, and for the first time ever, I didn’t have a preference on which POV I’m reading from! They are both really good! I was gravitated towards the story more and more as I dived deeper into the plotwhirlpool of mysteries. I simply could not stop reading [ok I’ll stop, I said that twice now]. It’s been a while since I read a book in one sitting, so this book made me feel good too, double plus. [And guess who’s gonna only read paranormal/mystery novels for her next readathon?]
Now for the characters: Miranda Blackwood is used to being called all kinds of names by those who reside on the island. Thanks to her family’s curse. Ever since her mum’s death, she has learnt to keep her head down, been taking care of her father and follows the rules as best as she could. With literally every thing around her going haywire, she found an unlikely alliance with the sheriff’s son, Grant Rawling (aka our boy with a secret). whom humiliated Miranda in front of the school three and a half years ago. Without spilling anything, I’ll let you know that Grant is a darling, he deserves everything good in this world because he’s so so sweet, and kind, and caring, like, can I have him? he needs to be protected at all cost from this violent world. There are also quite a few secondary characters to keep track on but it was easy to follow through, so don’t worry if you can’t remember everyone’s name.
ALSO, MIRANDA HAS A DOG. I REPEAT SHE HAS A DOG! AND THIS FACT ALONE MAKES THIS BOOK EVEN BETTER. His name is Sidekick by the way, in case you were wondering. [I had to put this in a single sentence because this fact is too important and cannot be overlooked].
Moving on, I don’t know if it’s just me, but I have a thing for guys who are genuinely sweet and protective. Miranda, given her state as a ‘bringer of bad luck’, never really had a friend (or anyone who will truly stand up for her), so it was heart-warming to see her getting along with Grant as they attempt to solve the mystery together.
The next thing is a positive note, in my opinion, but it may not be for some of you: a slow burn romance (which may or may not be considered insta-love for some people) - BUT BUT BUT, it’s the good, well-executed Kasie-West-kind! AND I LOVE IT! Look, as long as the pair have known each other’s existence for a couple of years, I, myself, really wouldn’t call it insta-love. But hey, we all have our unique definitions, and that’s okay!
All in all, I really enjoyed this thrilling novel! The building up of tensions, the small town vibes and modern-historical parallel really made this book a win-win for me. If you are in search of a YA blend of paranormal mystery with a dash of historical epic-ness (oh yes the fans of The Raven Cycle I’m looking at you), I highly recommend Strange Alchemy to you!
I have always be intrigued by the mystery that surrounds the Lost Colony on Roanoke Island and when I saw the cover of Blackwood and read the synopsis I knew I had to read this tale. Author Gwenda Bond offers her unique twist on this mystery. I found this tale to be dark, gritty and creepy! It grabbed me at page one and the mystery kept me turning the pages.
The tale begins when we meet Miranda Blackwood; she is working at the local theater where they replay the tale of the missing colonist for tourist. Miranda hears and sees a giant ship moving its way towards the stage. Terrified it will crush an actress, she leaps on to the stage knocking the actress down. Expecting a crash she is shocked that the ship disappeared into thin air. Mortified by the stares, she heads home. Her drunken dad is on his way out and she curls up in bed with her dog, Sidekick. In the morning she wakes to discover her dad never returned home. She quickly assumes he has landed himself in jail again. She jumps in her car dubbed, “the pineapple” and heads into town to bail him out. What she discovers is that 114 residents of Roanoke Island have disappeared, the exact same amount that went missing and were never found in 1584. Her dad is among the missing. Sounds creepy right? The tale that unfolds kept me captivated as Miranda discovers secrets about the island and her family.
The characters in Bond’s novel were quirky, witty, scary and unique. I liked Miranda. She is known as the town “freak” and readily embraces this label. She marches to her own drum and has enough problems at home to even think about dealing with people’s opinions. While often timid she can be witty, sarcastic and brave. Phillip is the son of the town sheriff, who was so plagued by hearing the ghosts of spirits his parents sent him away to school. When everyone goes missing, his Dad decides he needs his freaky-kind-of-help. I liked Phillips’s need to protect Miranda, and his edgy bad boy personality. The back history and connection between, Miranda and Phillip was interesting, but lacked some of the depth I need from a sparking romance. It was not insta-love and there were some cute romantic moments. Other characters propelled the story, some felt right and others did not. I would have liked to have seen both present and past characters a little more fleshed out.
The world-building while not without flaws was refreshing and the storyline kept me turning the pages. Some events felt anti-climatic and others needed more back-story. Despite these flaws, I really enjoyed the tale and consumed this in a single afternoon. Bond’s writing style was enjoyable and the book was well paced. The mystery, the curse and the chain of events were both creepy and suspenseful. I love the mystery behind the Lost Colony and enjoyed this refreshing take on it.
I recommend Blackwood to fans of historical mysteries, fantasy and suspenseful tales. This is my first novel by Angry Robot and I look forward to more of their novels. I have added Bond to my author’s to watch list and look forward to reading more of her work.
I want to thank Angry Robot and netGalley for providing this ARC in exchange for my unbiased review.
This was a bizarre book with a side of creepy, let me tell ya.
To begin I was pleasantly surprised that this book kept my interest at all, after just reading the synopsis that came with it.I just felt reading it, that it had a done to death formula, a misfit girl with some daddy issues and a rebellious boy, who used to make fun of said girl, but now finds her to be the best thing like ever. It didn't help that my favorite character was probably the dog, that I kept wishing would start talking and beat all the bad people itself, that would of been a five star book.
Blackwood tells the story of a town's history dating back to original pilgrimage when 114 people, exactly, went missing off the island of Roanoke. Well history repeats itself, gotta hate when that happens, and Miranda Blackwood finds herself directly involved because of her great ancestors involvement in the original mystery.
I had no idea that the book would also involve public drones and the return of someone very much dead, from very long time ago. The whole reason I kept reading and maybe read the book to begin with, was to find out where these 114 people went too, according to the author, and how they would get back. I was disappointed by the eventual answer to this, I thought it would be like some big reveal or something i didn't even think of..but then it just wasn't. And by just I mean, the reveal was just thrown in there and didn't really impact me at all, in fact, I was thinking to myself, "well that was lame." By the time I got to this less than fun reveal, I was near the end so I pretty much had to finish. Author 1 Kevin 0
I hate when people act like useless drones because they are being guided by another source, it just doesn't make sense to me unless I have some concluding evidence to what's going on..and I didn't get that here, or didn't care to take it seriously, if it was there. There was this one particular part near the end where everything slows down to nearly a halt. The book was gaining momentum, but then for a few chapters straight I feel like the characters sat around, and almost accepted their fate, I like those strong eccentric characters that go out and DO something to help the cause, their involvement in ending..literally just kind of happened.
With all that said, there were some bright parts. Even though this relationship seems to happen in every other book, this one felt semi real, and wasn't like all "I love you, so much" right from the start. They were even some humor parts in there, which is great because I'm so tired of those straight forward serious YA books. I mean these are for young adults..and we enjoy our humor. Plus like I said, the dog was pretty cool. The problem with this book is that when the relationship and the dog are my favorite parts, that's not saying much for the rest of the book.
Also one of the bigger reveals that the main character kept repeating, which I won't say here cause it's a spoiler, I totally called, I hate when I do that.
3/5 Date Reviewed: 10 June 2017 This Review was first posted on Keep Reading Forward. If you want to see more, check out our other locations as well as here.
Thank You Capstone & NetGalley for giving a copy in exchange for an honest review.
In Strange Alchemy, history is repeated when 114 citizens in a town suddenly disappears in the same location where it first happens many years ago on the same island of Roanoke. I stumbled across this book randomly on NetGalley while I was binge watching American Horror Story. Any AHS fan knows that the latest season involved with the Roanoke story. I think was in a moment of being slightly obsessed with the show that I wanted to read more.
I remember when I first got into this book, I started thinking that this was different and interesting. There were talks of a curse surrounding a certain family while theres another family dealing with a gift that can see spirits affected by the curse on the island. It was an interest play on a legend that almost everyone knows. The more I got into, the less interested I became.
I felt that certain scenes and parts were being dragged out where it could be summed up or written quicker. It was mainly playing around with history and finding important pieces that could help with what was going on in the present day when citizens went missing, During the middle of the books, I felt that some of the same information kept being repeated over and over again. It was not to repetitive, but to an amount when you start thinking that you already knew that and want something new.
In the ending of the book, everything started going in a faster pace as everything fell into place and information started coming from everything. I was able to understand it, but I felt that to many things were happening at once. I knew that this was sudden part of the story and every character did not expect it. I tried following the characters' action, but there were bits that happened and I had to think "When did that happen?" I was not sure if it was recent, or a couple of chapters back because I ended up taking a break from this book unintentionally. Due to that reason, I decided to let this this part go a little. It may have been my fault for forgetting some pieces after al.
Overall, this is an easy book, but requires certain focus to follow up on everything. I loved the fact that this was based on Roanoke and for that I enjoyed part of this book. However, I just could not get into the story as much as I thought I would.
Gwenda Bond’s first book Blackwood has been reimagined and brought back to life with new vision.
Roanoke Island, the legend of the Lost Colony—and the 114 colonists who vanished without a trace more than four hundred years ago — still haunts the town. But that’s just a story told for the tourists. When 114 people suddenly disappear from the island in present day, it seems history is repeating itself—and an unlikely pair of seventeen-year-olds might be the only hope of bringing the missing back. Miranda Blackwood, a member of one of island’s most infamous families, and Grant Rawling, the sheriff’s son, who has demons and secrets of his own, find themselves at the center of the mystery. As the unlikely pair works to uncover the secrets of the new Lost Colony, they must dodge everyone from the authorities to long-dead alchemists as they race against time to save their family and friends before they too are gone for good.
If you spend much time in an American history class at some point you are bound to hear the tale of Roanoke and its lost colony.
Gwenda Bond took that historical fable or real life mystery depending on your point of view and turned it into one of the most original and thrilling stories in the YA genre I’ve read in quite some time. To give you some perspective I’ve read nearly 200 books in 2017 thanks to a darling genetic quirk that enhances my reading comprehension and speed and I am seriously NOT KIDDING when I say if you want to see what originality and talent combined can create then check out this book.
She has created a well written and seemingly well researched plot, as accurate as you can get considering the complete lack of reliable information that has been found thus far. The lack of verifiable truth plays in Bond’s favor as she has free reign to use fantasy and the supernatural to fill in the holes with a masterful twist.
Her dialogue sounds decent although it does have its “nonsensical” moments but when it comes to the YA genre that little flaw seems to be a requirement and she does still make it work for the characters personalities.
I think readers will enjoy the main characters of Miranda and Grant thanks to Bond’s ability to create characters you can attach to and become interested in enough that you want to see how their story plays out plus she has a great mystery element that will pique your curiosity.
I do so love paranormal stories with plots that incorporate strange and/or mysterious circumstances surrounding real historical events, and this book certainly fits that description. Considered one of America's oldest and biggest unsolved mysteries, the Lost Colony of Roanoke was an attempt by Queen Elizabeth I to establish a permanent English settlement in what is present-day Dare County, North Carolina. 114 colonists ended up disappearing without a trace, with one of the very few clues being the word "Croatoan" carved into a post of a fence.
Hundreds of years later, Miranda Blackwood, our protagonist who is somewhat of an outsider due to her infamous family name, wakes up one morning in her home on Roanoke Island to find that her father has vanished along with more than a hundred others in town -- 114, to be exact. Together with her once-classmate and juvenile delinquent Phillips Rawling, a boy who can hear the voices of dead people, Miranda knows it's up to them to uncover the secrets of the Lost Colony in order to solve the mystery, and to save the missing.
There was a lot of potential here, and I could have easily pictured this book reaching new heights in supernatural creepiness when it comes to storytelling and atmosphere, but it didn't quite happen.
Don't get me wrong; this was one fine book and I liked it, but I very well could have LOVED it if the execution had been a little stronger and more ambitious. Granted, this book nails it when it comes to having all the trappings of a good paranormal YA novel, but it never quite takes off to become exceptional. On a related note, I've noticed that this seems to be the case for several early Strange Chemistry books I've read so far. Now that I've had a couple more of their recent titles under my belt, though, I definitely feel later books have been showing more flair. It's like it just took the imprint their first year to settle into their groove and start publishing stories that more and more fit their unique flavor and style.
On Roanoke Island, hundreds of years after the disappearance of the infamous Lost Colony’s 114 (one of America’s oldest mysteries), the sudden disappearance of 114 people in the present day is the set up to a story that mixes history and fantasy as well as alchemy, curses and romance.
Two teenagers are deeply connected to this mystery. Miranda, a lonely girl from the infamous, cursed Blackwood family (discriminated against by all) and whose deadbeat father is one of the missing; and Philips, a boy who has heard voices of the dead inside his head and who knows that he can help solve this mystery and protect Miranda.
Blackwood has a fabulous premise going for it and the mystery is – at least to start with – quite intriguing. In fact, wanting to find out what happened to these people and why is what kept me reading till the end. The concept of the novel and its combination of historical events with Fantasy is engaging but unfortunately - and this truly pains me to say, as I had been anxiously waiting for Blackwood for a while now – not well executed with quite a few contrivances and nonsensical plot developments.
For example: as I read, I stumbled onto questions I couldn’t avoid asking. Miranda and her family have been discriminated against, labeled as freaks and as carriers of a curse their entire lives. WHY. I mean, if you think about it: if the entire old colony has disappeared (without spoiling too much: all but two people actually), how would anyone know about the Blackwood’s curse? More to the point: why wouldn’t the “cursed” family not know the nature of their own curse especially considering that they had a mission to carry out through the ages? It just seems like a contrived way to build unnatural conflict to me and to keep the main character in the dark for the entire book. I just couldn’t understand why the current inhabitants would hate the Blackwoods so much.
It also doesn’t help that the book features that sort of villain that wants immortality at any cost. Which is fine in itself but I can never understand why wanting immortality also translates into taking control over the world. Of course, there is a concrete plan to ensure the former but no plan to accomplish the latter and it is hard to take a villain seriously when all they want is to play a really long game of Risk for no particular reason.
Blackwood also features a romantic plotline that nearly drove me to distraction. On the up side: I liked the main characters. Miranda is a cool geeky girl (whose unfortunate tendency to say “frak” all the time probably dates this book too much) and Philips is actually an adorable good boy. On the downside: theirs is an inta-love that feels forced and therefore detracts from the reading experience. I mean, Miranda’s father has been murdered, she is all alone in the world, under a horrible curse that probably means her death and yet there are romantic thoughts toward Philips in the most awkward moments and this proved to be extremely jarring. And oh, the near-kisses drove me insane. I loathe those – and they are like a regular feature of romantic YA. How many times can a couple realistically "stumble" out of a kiss?
I’ve been anxiously waiting for Blackwood and perhaps my reading experience suffered under the weighty pressure of too high expectations. It happens. In the end though, as much I would love to be able to, I can’t really recommend it (I am weeping inside).
Unfortunately, my experience with Blackwood echoes Ana's. While I love a new take on the missing colonists at Roanoke and I appreciate some of the underlying concepts of Blackwood, the novel is deeply flawed in terms of writing, plot development, and character motivation.
Blackwood is built around the historical fact of the missing colonists of Roanoke Island - you know, Sir Walter Raleigh, 114 missing colonists, "CROATOAN" carved on the tree and all that. Many an author has taken a stab at the story of the missing colonists, and in Blackwood, Gwenda Bond sets the story on Roanoke in present day - when 114 residents mysteriously disappear, just as their predecessors did, hundreds of years earlier. The reason for the disappearing colonists and present-day residents is a mystery that can be unlocked only by two of the original colony descendants - Miranda Blackwood and Phillips Rawling. Miranda is branded as an outcast to her fellow islanders by virtue of her last name (despite being uncommonly beautiful, of course), and Phillips hears voices of spirits in his head whenever he's on the island - and so to save his sanity, he's concocted an elaborate scheme of getting into enough trouble that his family is forced to send him away to boarding school off Roanoke (of course, his troublemaking is all a front and he NEVER gets caught unless he wants to be caught. He's that guy.).
In principle, despite the stock quality of these two characters, I like the idea of Miranda and Phillips. Unfortunately, like Ana, I couldn't quite buy into the motivations of either character, their insta-romance, or their cringeworthy, often nonsensical exchanges. First, motivations - Phillips learns that people have seemingly vanished into thin air at Roanoke, so he comes home. As soon as he lands though, his first action is...to steal his mother's car from the airport parking lot (leaving his mother to wait at the gate for him for hours), and drive to Miranda's house. A girl that he has not seen or spoken to in four years. He goes there...well, it's never really explained (trust me, I reread the section a few times to make sure I wasn't being obtuse). Basically, the reason for Phillips ditching his mother at the airport - during a time of crisis with people disappearing, mind you! - is that he saw a clip of Miranda on the news, and knew he had to see her. This was a portent ode for the rest of my experience with Blackwood.
I also, unfortunately, must agree with Ana regarding the forced nature of Miranda being a Girl Geek - the repeated, blatant attention drawn to her love of Battlestar Galactica and The Vampire Diaries came off as annoying rather than endearing. But beyond these more minute issues, the larger issue of character reaction and motivation comes into play, especially with Miranda learns that her father has been murdered...and a few pages later is hanging out with Phillips and his family, crushing on the hot bad boy back in town, with nary a thought for her father. Just...no.
There's also a HUGE plausibility gap problem with Blackwood, which spans the majority of the book. There's a completely ludicrous FBI investigation of Phillips and Miranda as cohorts in planning her father's murder/implicated in the disappearance of the colonists (these are the worst FBI agents in the history of the bureau). There's the ridiculous backstory of the Reason for the Missing Colonists - which involves Miranda, an ancient immortality-unlocking gun, and a spurned lover/Evil Mastermind that can distill the secrets of life and death. These elements were all underdeveloped, or hokey in the extreme, and I simply could not suspend my disbelief. It also doesn't help that from a writing perspective, inconsistencies kept jarring my reading experience - for example, when Phillips takes Miranda to meet Dr. Roswell (who has conducted painstaking research about the missing colonists), someone that Phillips has not seen or communicated with in four years, welcomes the teens into his lab as though they see each other every day, without a word about Phillips' returning. There's a high degree of repetition, from BSG's "frak" (which does feel very dated now, I'm sad to say), to (bizarrely) CNN.
It pains me to say it because I was so excited for this book, from its gorgeous cover to its promising blurb, but say it I must: Blackwood was not the book for me.
DNF Se nota demasiado que este es uno de los primeros trabajos de Gwenda y no le llega ni a los talones a la Saga Lois Lane. Tenemos una isla y una familia maldita que no puede salir de ahí.Todo pinta bien hasta que te encuentras con un slow pace,puras obras de teatro que claramente son relleno y muchos elementos de misterio que están trilladisimos. Por lo que huí en la pagina 70.
Quick & Dirty: Blackwood was really just an okay read for me, I had a hard time investing myself in the characters from this novel.
Opening Sentence: The first time Miranda Blackwood checked the back of her closet for a portal to another world she was eleven.
Blackwood was one of those novels, I’m not sure entirely why, that the cover just called out to me and because of that I really wanted to read this novel. I had high hopes for Blackwood but in the end it took me a while to finish this book. I just had a hard time getting into these characters so that really bogged down the read for me.
Miranda is a dreamer and often loses herself in her daydreams and TV shows. She often wishes that she were anywhere but on the island off the coast of Virginia where she grew up. The island just happens to be the same island, Roanoke, that many people disappeared from hundreds of years ago. During the tourist season, Miranda works behind the scenes on a play that tells the story of the disappearance. One night, her daydreaming catches up with Miranda when she sees a ship sailing from the audience towards the stage. She interrupts the play and generally makes an ass of herself but she doesn’t care. Miranda has always lived as a black sheep of the island because of her last name, Blackwood. Blackwoods have a tendency to be a strange folk and people generally make fun of them.
Miranda ponders if what she saw was real, while no one else seemed to see the big black ship overtaking the stage. As she gets home, the dogs in the neighborhood all go insane. Miranda finds it strange but has no idea why and ignores it. The next morning she wakes up to find out her dad never made it home. She doesn’t worry too much since he is the town drunk, he is more than likely sleeping it off at the police station. She goes to pick up her father when she discovers that many people from the town have disappeared overnight. She believes her father to be among them until she learns the tragic news that her father was actually murdered. Miranda is devastated but she doesn’t dwell on it too much because she wants to know if her fathers’ murder and the disappearances have anything in common.
Phillips is called home by his father, the Police Chief. Phillips left the island to get away from the voices in his head but because his father calls for his help and the fact that he sees Miranda on TV does he decide to finally come back. He finally got rid of the voices and he really didn’t want to go back but he also wants to know why 114 people disappeared. Phillips is drawn to Miranda and together they try to uncover the story of the Blackwood curse, Phillips voices and why everyone just reappears as suddenly as they disappeared. (*Off the topic rant* I really hated his name for some reason. If it was Phillip I probably wouldn’t have had a problem or if he was called by his last name I think I equally wouldn’t have had a problem, but add an ‘s’ to Phillip and I just kept screwing up his name everytime I read it. It just seemed like a really odd first name to me. Sorry to any actually (first name) Phillips out there.)
I love a good paranormal/fantasy story but I had a hard time just believing this one. The witchcraft/alchemy story was explained but I felt like there were just too many loopholes. And the potential for an insanely incestuous relationship really grossed me out. The writing was good and I really enjoyed the unique story that I haven’t really read. Blackwood did alternate between Miranda and Phillips POVs.
Overall, this was really just an okay read for me. I struggled at times with the characters and the massive amount of questions that kept coming up with the storyline while they received no answers as to what was going on. Read it if you like history and want to know what this author interprets as the reasoning for the Roanoke Island/Croatoan disappearances.
No Blondie, but she approved of the bands she knew. She hit shuffle mode and play and learned something else about Phillips. He kept the volume cranked way too loud. Jumping at the blare, she dropped the iPod on the vanity. Retrieving it, she looked up into the mirror, expecting to see nothing of note. Just her own tired face. Frazzled hair. Dark circles. Etcetera.
The strawberry-colored snake crawled along the top of her cheek toward her temple. Unmistakable. A birthmark, but not hers. Her father’s.
No one heard Miranda’s scream.
FTC Advisory: Strange Chemistry provided me with a copy of Blackwood. No goody bags, sponsorships, “material connections,” or bribes were exchanged for my review.
I’ve never given a DNF to a book before. Even ones that were excruciating to get through, I’ve kept going. I’ve realized there are so many awesome books to read and there’s no point wasting your time. I will still find it hard to give up on a physical book that I spent lots of $$$ on, but an e-version doesn’t feel quite as devastating to let go of.
What were my issues with Blackwood, a book with a terrific concept that it failed to execute properly?
- Slightly juvenile writing. I mean, it’s fine, but it doesn’t help given the issues below
- Blah, boring characters
- Slightly unbelievable circumstances – I mean half of Roanoke has disappeared, again. Yes, I would love to know what happened to them but the way it’s being handled so far makes me think that the mystery won’t be all that interesting once it comes to light. Nothing feels realistic in this book…it’s kind of hard to explain. It feels flat, false…
- The formatting – it’s an ARC from Netgalley, so I don’t think these issues will be present in the final version but the lack of indents and proper spacing between chapters really bugs me.
- What also bugs me? The 3rd person POV changes a lot and frequently but, like I stated before, there isn’t proper spacing, so it just jumps around a lot. You’re reading one sentence, next sentence it’s about someone else, somewhere else. I’m sure this will be corrected but jeez, it doesn’t make it easy to read.
- The MC is heading for insta-love, highlighted by interactions such as: “’Why do you know so much about random stuff like matchlocks and music and The Vampire Diaries’ I’ve never met anyone like you.” ----WUHT? This is what makes the love interest so unique? Music? VAMPIRE DIARIES?! Yeah...no one likes that show...
But what really made me stop was the MC’s reaction to her father’s death. She finds out her father is dead – murdered – and she doesn’t really seem to care. In fact the whole day goes by and she’s making jokes and talking about other things. So I’m thinking, well she’s in shock. Then later she gets this birthmark on her cheek, of a snake, the same one her dad had. It’s some sort of curse.
THEN she flips out. She cries. But because she’s got some snake curse NOT BECAUSE HER DAD WAS BRUTALLY MURDERED. This is highlighted by phrases such as: "Are you upset about your dad or is it something else?" and "Pretend you're sad about your dad and go to bed." People, people...he JUST died that day.
Then I’m like, OK, well there HAS to be a perfectly acceptable reason about the way she’s reacting. Maybe she knows something we don’t. Maybe she knows he’s not actually dead.
So she and the insta-love guy go to the morgue and look at her dad’s body. Yeah, no, he’s very much dead. And the MC still runs away, feeling sorry for herself because of this curse she has.
I just…I can’t…
There’s also the fact that the dad is an alcoholic, having to raise the MC by herself, because her mother died when she was young. So fucking what? It almost felt like the book was making an excuse for the MC’s lack of emotion about her father: oh he was a drunk, so who cares. Personally, that disgusts me to no end, like he’s not worth being upset about because he was an alcoholic. Maybe I’m reading into it the wrong way, maybe it’s an issue that’s close to home with me, but yeah that’s the way I see it and I just refuse to continue reading.
There’s a chance this book goes in a great direction after this. An explanation for the character’s callousness. Maybe the dad’s not dead after all. Maybe the mystery of the island will be really cool. Maybe the characters will get some personality. Who knows? I’m just not sticking around to find out.
It failed to capture my attention from the very beginning: first the exposition on the history of Roanoke Island, then a short glimpse of Miranda, the main character, in a chapter that really comes alive only when the black ship appears (before we've even got to care a little bit about the character, since we're just told a few facts about her, and nothing is shown), then a short chapter in italics told from other point of views that introduces the disappearance of people from the island. (The presence of those three little chapters in italics didn't really make sense at all, actually.) Confusing and ultimately uninteresting, sadly.
As a whole I found this novel to be trite and uninspired: it employed every stereotype I could think of (the alcoholic father who loves his daughter, the historian/scientist/researcher who believes in the supernatural, the stupid FBI agents) and it really made no effort to put these characters in new, different situations. Most of the plot felt old (asking the historian for help, visiting the graveyard for comfort, the evil overlord boasting about his evil plan...), and at one point it became very predictable, and while it did not stall, some parts didn't really work (the accusation of murder from the stupid FBI agents was so unfounded - they got the only person on the island who had a strong alibi and no previous contacts with his alleged accomplice - that it resulted completely unbelievable. I get that it helped the plot moving along, but come on).
The worst thing was that I couldn't connect with the characters. Miranda was not very interesting: I'm glad her status as an outcast didn't make her an angst-ridden character, but for the most part I found her to be just a vehicle for the plot. Her reaction to her father's death wasn't just weird (as the stupid FBI agents said), it was actually almost absent: I get she may not want to see the body, but at least she could've give it a thought, instead of forgetting it until it became important to the plot. A parent's death is not just any plot device; here it just felt meaningless. Of course people have different reactions to death of loved ones, but this was even a murder! And still just a few hours later Miranda can only think about making out with her newfound love interest. It may certainly happen in real life, but that doesn't automatically make the narrative interesting or believable.
Phillips, just like Miranda, served the plot without being more than the hero type character. He was first introduced as a boy who had a really bad reputation, but after a few pages it was like the rumours about him being a criminal never existed. Instead, we get this golden boy who is ready to break the rules to protect his loved ones (first Miranda and then his mother), and that really doesn't feel right when you think he's just spent three years of his life away from the island to save himself from the voices in his head. Then he sees Miranda on tv and he just decides he has to give in to his irrational side, without a second thought, without fearing for himself and his sanity. (He just acknowleledges that, but it doesn't stand as a conflict to the story.) I'm sorry, but I don't buy it.
In the end, a not so enjoyable read. I wish luck to this new imprint, though, in the hope I will like one or more of their future publications.
A review copy of this book was provided by the publisher via NetGalley.
The concept is brilliant. It's unique for a YA paranormal romance. Nothing about this concept is ordinary. I enjoyed the freshness of the idea and some of the unique elements--like the villain's weapon, a bedazzled rifle, but this book fell short of my expectations. I started off liking the main characters, but I don't think I really like Miranda by the end. She made a decision that I suppose was courageous but really just seemed cold and calculating, and she didn't even seem to struggle with it. That being said, there was nothing especially bad about this book either. It just never grabbed me. I've reviewed 33 books this year, and I'll review 19 more before the year ends--in 10 weeks. I read fairly fast, and when I love a book I read even faster. It's taken me five weeks to read this book. I originally thought this was due to my house guests who criticized everything I did and made me so nervous I couldn't sit still to read. But I did start reading again, and I've been 30 pages from the end for more than a week and never felt a need to get to the end. 30 pages from the end life, my baby, my family, my work, the world would usually be put on hold until I powered through. I didn't care enough to finish, and finally I made myself finish it to write the review.
There are more grammatical/typographical errors than I think is normal, so I'm giving it 2 stars. I think I would have given this book 3 stars without the errors, because there was nothing really wrong with it. Still, it's a bad sign when a reader is 30 pages from the end and doesn't feel a need to get there.
I’ve heard a lot about Gwenda Bond from the various authors that I follow online, but she was always an author that I’d read the synopsis of her book and just end up putting back on the shelf. I don’t know what it is, but there’s always something about the synopses that just turn me off on the book. And having read Blackwood, I’m still unsure if I want to give Woken Gods a shot. (I will also admit to being incredibly busy this month, which is why it took me so long to get through this book. Amongst other reasons, but there’s a good chunk of “Yeah, can’t read two books right now.”)
This is one of those books with a strong concept, good characters, and terrible plot execution. The first quarter of this pulled me in with the sudden new disappearances on Roanoke Island, and I was curious to find out the meaning of the black ship and how it ties to Miranda’s family, but by the time Phillips returns to Roanoke Island, the plot momentum screeches to a halt and drags on until the last quarter. And in the last quarter of the book, the climax and resolution are so completely ridiculous that I wasn’t sure what I was reading. I could almost excuse the meandering middle part of the book where Miranda and Phillips are discovering Deep Dark Historical Secrets if there was a good payoff for the ending. Instead, we get death by drowning because of curse limitations. (And when I thought about that ending, technically it shouldn’t have worked.)
As I said, I liked the premise. While I ascribe to the tribe integration theory of the colonists, I do like that Bond is trying something different with her premise behind the colonists’ disappearance. I like the concept of “Okay, well, there’s a interdimensional rift where the souls of the colonists are waiting to possess modern day bodies.”; I can run with that. I can even run with the idea that all of the missing were followers of John Dee and alchemists. My problems start with the whole history involving John Dee trying to usurp Elizabeth I with a race of immortal colonists. That’s when my believability meter cracking because yeah no. I could go off on how much this mucks about with Elizabethan history because no. No. John Dee was wandering Europe and communicating with angels at the time of the colony’s founding. That’s just the start of the problems. (Also, saying Raleigh was a favorite of Elizabeth’s =/= they were banging. There’s actually no conclusive evidence of them having an affair.) And then there’s a magical gun that imparts immortality in a two-step process that never really gets explained; not to mention, the gun never actually or metaphorically goes off and plays any importance to the plot.
The main chunk of the book just has some of the weirdest plot points that I just had to put my head down for a few minutes because my brain started hurting from trying to unravel it. For example, Phillips is accused of murdering Miranda’s father by the FBI! Oh no! Except that this plot thread makes NO FREAKING SENSE because it’s outright stated that Phillips wasn’t even in the same state at the time of the murder. I just…what? And their reasoning is that “Oh, well you broke into the funeral home and touched the body! And now the body’s gone!” I…look, lock him up for breaking and entering then. And then we find out that John Dee is possessing Miranda’s father, which NOBODY QUESTIONS.NOBODY. Apparently the only three people in town who recognize the former Mr. Blackwood are Miranda, the town sheriff and the guy who runs the liquor store. I mean, the police are going to investigate all of the missing people, right? No? You’re just going to let them go off to the Blackwood house and nobody is going to question why the dead guy who is well known around town is suddenly walking around and missing a very distinctive birthmark? And let them put on a play? (Yes, this is the climax of the book. The antagonists hold a ceremony at the local town play.)
(And again, the historical fail with a nice heaping pile of DO NOT WANT is that John Dee was apparently in love with Miranda’s ancestor, Mary Blackwood, and thinks that Miranda is her reincarnated. And hits on Miranda while in her father’s body.
Yeah. I'm going let that sit here.)
And to defeat the evil John Dee, Miranda’s big grand solution is to have her father walk into the ocean and drown, because her family’s curse stipulates that a Blackwood can never leave the island. Which 1. Shouldn’t work because Dee’s proven that he can jump into other bodies at will, and 2. Apparently, having the snake birthmark means that Miranda now has the curse, so would that mean her dad is wandering the ocean floor forever until he’s depressurized? Not the immortality gun which Miranda does tamper with, it just does nothing in the climax.
The thing is, I would have given a lot of this book a free pass, because I did genuinely like the characters. Both Miranda and Phillips do err on the side of bland a lot of the time—she’s a small town girl who wants more than her dead end life; he’s the charming troublemaker with a heart of gold (and a daaaark secret). But I found both of them to be endearing and funny and I love that the two have instant chemistry with one another. I really liked Phillips’s relationship with his parents—yes, even though he caused hell for them so he could get away from the voices of Roanoke, they still care a lot for Phillips. Plus I think it does say a lot about how much his father really trusts Phillips to bring him home to help with the new disappearances. The fact that Phillips’s parents know about his psychic abilities is actually a welcome change in most of the YA paranormal I’ve read; they might not believe in it 100% but they acknowledge it exists, their son has to live with this and they’re willing to help him. (Which goes right out the window whenever the murder charges show up, because no, really, that’s the stupidest accusation in the whole book and Phillips’s parents would damn well know firsthand that it’s stupid.)
As I said in the beginning, there was a lot to this book that I was looking forward to. I liked the concept even if my inner history geek was crying in corner and I really liked the main characters. But…look. I can handwave a lot of things if there’s good plotting that makes sense within the book’s context. I have no idea what happened to the plot in this book. The way things are explained and revealed seem so happenstance and it comes out of nowhere, and the way Bond introduces conflict is kind of insulting to the parties involved. (Seriously, the whole making Phillips a fugitive. What was that. You had a perfectly good reason to lock him up, we didn’t need murder charges.) The ending has a plot hole big enough to drive an eighteen wheeler through it.
I really don’t want to say that “Oh, well, the reason I never picked up Gwenda Bond before is that my instincts are right!” but I am less curious to check out Woken Gods. I do want to see what else she can do, but I think it’s going to take a lot more for me to check out her books now.
Note: ebook received via Netgalley. Thank you, Switch Press.
I tried really hard to get into Strange Alchemy. I found my attention wandering fast and nearly made it so far as the 1/3 mark before stopping. Nothing of particular interest was happening. There were hints of the interesting and intriguing, but the characters were not entirely behaving rationally for the situation and felt as much a hindrance to my enjoyment as the pacing.
The author does a decent job of creating teenage outcasts, but they seem too much and too little at the same time. Along with the slow reveals and the overly snappy dialogue, it was not a journey I wished to continue. Based on what I've seen, this is an edited and shortened version of a book previously written by the author. Not having read the other, I can't say what has been changed or removed, but not being invested by the time I was a third in was enough for me to call it quits. I'm sure there is a reader for this type of paranormal story, but I'm afraid it wasn't me.
~2.5 stars. This was such a weird story. I liked some aspects of it — Miranda and Phillips were likeable characters with a cute romance, and the set-up of the mystery was kinda creepy — but I feel like it became more of a muddled slog towards the middle. Some of it just got too over-the-top in what seemed almost like a parody of horror elements, and then one part of the villainous plot was just foiled so easily. Also, everybody who learned about the existence of magic/alchemy/whatever-you-want-to-call-it accepted it too quickly. Where were the modern-day skeptics to be found?
Gwenda Bond is a great middle grade author. But this is technically YA, and ready like a middle grade with very cringey characters and writing. The plot trusts honestly didn't even really shock me or keep me going; by the end, I just wanted it to end. Not a satisfying ending, and not a satisfying read tbh
Gwenda Bond's YA debut Blackwood is based on the true story of the Lost Colony of Roanoke Island. Now I have to admit that I knew practically nothing about the legend of Roanoke before starting this book, the little I did know actually came from another popular YA book but since I didn't really enjoy that story I was never inspired to look up more information about the legend. That all changed when I read Blackwood though and I've since spend some time looking into the facts surrounding the Lost Colony. It's hard enough to imagine an entire colony of 114 people vanishing back in the 1500's but fast forward to the present day on Roanoke and imagine that another 114 people vanish overnight. Where have they gone? Has someone taken them? Is it just a big publicity stunt or are the rest of the islanders in danger? Those are just some of the questions that will come to mind when you start reading Blackwood.
I absolutely loved the way Gwenda Bond has taken a real historical incident and recreated it in modern times. We will never know what really happened on Roanoke back in 1587 but our main characters Miranda and Phillips have a chance at uncovering the mystery behind the current disappearances and their investigation had me hooked from the first page. The author has created and engaging story full of historical detail (with a supernatural twist), modern small town life and a great cast of characters and it is a story I'd highly recommend. The story is told from both Miranda and Phillips point of view in alternating chapters but I loved the way occasional small sections are also told by some of the missing people and their families.
Miranda is the town outcast, her family is looked down upon by the other permanent residents of the island and they are considered cursed. Rumours aren't helped by the way her father became the town drunk after her mother's death. Miranda has created a tough outer shell to show the world she doesn't care about the rumours but deep down she is lonely and just longs for acceptance. Phillips is the bad boy son of the island's police chief but what people don't realise is that the reason he caused so much trouble was because he was so desperate to be sent away from Roanoke. When on the island Phillips is brought to his knees by voices that only he can hear yet as soon as he steps foot on the mainland the voices disappear. When his father begs him to return to help investigate the current disappearance he is reluctant but in the end something draws him there almost against his will.
Together Miranda and Phillips work towards solving the mystery and bringing about the return of their missing family and friends but can they get to the bottom of things before any damage is permanent? I really enjoyed the interactions between the two of them and the way their relationship develops from wariness to a gradually built trust which eventually turns into something more. The romance was believable and enjoyable to read but I appreciated the way it never overtook the main story and I absolutely loved the fact we aren't treated to yet another love triangle. I was also really pleased that Gwenda Bond has tied up all of the lose ends in one book, we're not left on tenterhooks waiting for the next instalment to find out what happens next which is quite novel in today's YA market. Don't get me wrong I do love a good series but when you are waiting at least a year between each new release it starts to become impossible to remember what happened in previous books and I find myself less and less interested in picking up the sequels.
Overall I have to say that Blackwood is a great debut and one that has me excited to see what Gwenda Bond will come up with next. If you're looking for a story that brings history to life and then puts a supernatural spin on it, a story that will keep you gripped and make you desperate to uncover the mystery then look no further.
Truthfully, be it because history isn’t my forte or because I live in Canada, I had no previous knowledge of the real-life disappearance of 114 settlers from Roanoke Island before starting Blackwood. Alas, to say I was interested in the premise of this novel, which is loosely based on the facts of the mystery and expands on the supernatural-esque intrigue, would be an extreme understatement.
Miranda Blackwood, a Roanoke native and the town freak, wakes up one morning to discover that her father has been murdered and 114 people have disappeared from town. Again. Of course, she’s instantly upset and suspicious, but when Phillips, the police chief’s rebellious and absent son, shows up at her door and demands that she help uncover the mystery, she figures that things are about to get even more complicated. After all, Miranda's an outcast for a reason.
While the supernatural aspect of Blackwood isn’t as expertly handled as the suspense and tension littered across every page, the crafted and factual mythology Bond wove in added tons of richness and a strong sense of culture to the novel. It takes a strong story to make my stomach churn and my mind race, and Bond succeeded in writing one, though her technical writing craft and style frequently bothered me. Maybe it was just my ARC, and maybe the awkward sentences and missing commas eventually were edited out, but I felt like Bond’s writing style was plain and oddly constructed in many circumstances, and believe it or not, this really affected my reading experience. I have a very hard time following sentences that don’t flow properly. Fortunately, the dual narration in 3rd person was handled well – hooray for no head-popping!
If you’re looking for a book with likable main characters, this is the one for you. Both Miranda and Phillips are well-developed, sympathetic characters, and Bond doesn’t shy away from showcasing the difficult parts of their personalities. There’s also a great amount of parental supervision and guidance in Blackwood, which I really appreciated, and an adorable, helpful dog named Sidekick. The villains didn’t do it for me, though – I saw right through them from the very beginning and didn’t find them to be particularly scary or interesting.
While this book was mostly fast-paced, there were many scenes where the characters sat around doing nothing, or had intense conversations in the middle of a huge debacle. Since this book is a suspense, stilted action is a problem. Also, one of my biggest pet peeves are romances that pop out of nowhere and occur because the other person is hot and funny and can hear dead people, and I mean, well, that happened in Blackwood. Like, really. Really. Do you have to touch her strange face tattoo right now? In the middle of the big reveal?! I also like some passion between my characters and some sexually-charged scenes to get me anticipating, but I’m glad it was the story that took priority in this book, even if I couldn't exactly get on board with the whole "romance" between the main characters.
Blackwood, despite its flaws, is an impressive and creative debut novel. I’m definitely looking forward to Bond’s future publishing endeavours, and would recommend this book to history fanatics and supporters of all things supernatural.
I received an advanced reader’s copy of this book from the publisher for an honest review.
I'm a big fan of history, so I was immediately drawn in by the historical connection this novel has. The Lost Colony at Roanoke Island will be familiar to anyone who's ever had an interest in the "mysterious disappearances sub genre" of history, and Bond really does use it to great effect in her novel. I was especially pleased with the appearance of one historical figure who is connected to magic. It seems so logical when you read it, and it brings the supernatural elements from history to the present in a completely natural way.
The novel doesn't take long to show us the present day mystery that is the main focus of the story, and the novel is "up and running" before the reader has time to get settled in. Bond is great at setting a fast pace, the story moves along so quick that the slower passages feel like a welcome opportunity for the reader to take a deep breath. The fast pace of the novel doesn't mean that it feels rushed, the pace of events flows naturally from the page. The fast pace of the novel is not caused by the action, although there is enough of that to satisfy, instead the story is driven by mystery. Bond presents the reader with events that deepens the mystery and suspense throughout the novel. There are a lot of twists and turns to what is happening and although one element is not a surprising revelation that doesn't mean it is predictable. It is very hard to see what is coming, and the answers to mystery we do get doesn't take away from that. Bond manages to keep up the level of suspense all the way to the end, and when all is finally resolved it is a satisfying ending.
A novel isn't only driven by its story, it has to have characters that you care about in it. Bond has created some really great ones here. The main characters, Miranda Blackwood and Phillips Rawling, come very well to life. Miranda is the protagonist of the novel, she is very well drawn and manages to feel both familiar and original. That there's something special about Miranda and Phillips will not come as a surprise, but the way Bond presents them, it doesn't feel out of place but just as a natural part of who they are. The supporting characters are also very well done, and they come with their own stories. We may not get to see it, but they are so alive on the page that you just know it is there. Even Miranda's father, who frankly gives a cliched first impression is shown to be much more than that later in the novel.
To sum up, this is really a great novel. It has a great supernatural suspense story at it's center, and the pacing of a good action-thriller. The Urban, or in this case rather Rural, Fantasy elements are suitably fantastic while still managing to be realistic. We get great characters whose story is a joy to follow, and who I wouldn't mind seeing again. Bond has written a Young Adult novel that shows the strengths of YA, and how good YA can be when done right. Despite not being anywhere near the YA age group I found this a great read, and I can recommend it to anyone who likes Urban/Contemporary Fantasy. This is a great debut novel by Gwenda Bond, and it is a novel that deserves a place on the shelves of any Fantasy fan. And for those that are partial to Young Adult, this is a must buy.
The mystery surrounding the Roanoke Colony, also referred to as The Lost Colony, has always fascinated me. Over one hundred settlers vanished from the small settlement of Roanoke; never to be seen again. The only clue left? The word Croatoan carved into a wooden post. Where did the settlers vanish to? Did they assimilate into surrounding tribes? Were they forced to flee to Croatoan Island, now known as Hatteras Island? Or were they killed to appease the island spirits? Gwenda Bond takes all our questions concerning Roanoke Island, adds a few twists and turns of her own, and offers us her version of what may have happened.
Blackwood begins with a modern mystery when history repeats itself and 114 people disappear off Roanoke Island without a trace. Miranda Blackwood, the town outcast, is shocked when she is dragged into investigating the disappearances along with the Chief of Police’s son, Phillips. Phillips once humiliated Miranda, but the person before her is nothing like the child he once was. Miranda and Phillips soon learn that the original disappearance of the settlers was more sinister than the historians thought and the race to save the island and themselves is on.
Engaging from page one, the story centers around our two protagonists, Miranda Blackwood and Phillips. Miranda is considered a freak to the town, due to her family’s circumstances and her ability to see things that aren’t there. Phillips Rawling, also from an old established island family, left the island in order to escape his family’s gift of hearing the dead. Phillips father commands him to return to the island to “help” figure out the disappearances, yet Phillips main concern is Miranda. He knows she’s in danger and attaches himself to her in attempts to keep her safe. A small romance blooms and develops alongside the main conflict.
I liked Miranda and Phillips. Both are intelligent, realistic portrayed teens not burdened by the emo angst that sometimes overwhelms a YA storyline. I would have liked to have seen a slower pace taken with their romance though. It is thrown at us and there is nothing to back up their feelings.
The main conflict is an interesting blending of mystery and suspense as Bond slowly reveals the plot of the story. I enjoyed the historical references that were sprinkled throughout, combining the past and the present. Good pacing and solid writing helps to keep the story travelling at a steady speed, though at times I felt the story became too simple and certain issues were glossed over that would have benefitted from more exploration. Backgrounds are not fully utilized and certain characters and plot lines suffered. Character assignments were random and scene locations changed at whim. Our villain is very creepy, but more in a “stranger-danger” type of way. Another villain has a huge build up that didn’t play out well for me in the end and I was shocked at the low key way in which they are dispatched.
Regardless of any problems I had, I did find the overall storyline interesting enough to keep me reading until the very end.