Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Blackwood by Gwenda Bond

Title: Blackwood
Author: Gwenda Bond
Publisher: Strange Chemistry
Release Date: September 4, 2012
Pages: 416 pages (paperback)
How I Got the Book: ARC from the publisher through NetGalley
Purchase/Pre-order: Amazon; Barnes & Noble; Book Depository

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.


Roanoke is one of the most fascinating mysteries in the history of North America. Over a hundred colonists go missing, leaving behind little more than "Croatoan" carved in a wooden post, and are never found again. Historical mysteries like this one fascinated me as a little girl, but so little was known about it and I was so little that I soon gave up on it. Bond's take on the secrets of the Lost Colony's disappearance is grabbing, though it could have used a little more development.

From beginning to end, Blackwood won't let the reader go. The opening pages dangle a little bit of bait for us, but it gets pulled away every time we get close. Not only does it get further away, but it gets more and more appetizing, and we keep following it until we reach the end of the line and finally get the gratification we've been seeking the entire time. That is the story of this book. The hints of alchemy and its role in the mysterious disappearances of Roanoke citizens in the present time, mirroring the mystery that made the island so infamous, kept me reading and thinking about it even when I wasn't reading.

The pacing may be fantastic, but I feel Miranda and Phillips's blooming relationship suffered because the story flew by so quickly. Blackwood takes place over a couple of days. They vaguely knew each other when they were children thanks to an incident where younger Phillips called Miranda a freak in front of the entire town, setting the stage for her to be ostracized by the rest of the town, but otherwise have no connection before the book stars. She gets over what was apparently an important moment in her life easily and the two are head over heels for one another before the first day is over. They moved too far too fast for what felt like the sake of the plot and it threw me out of the story.

The writing was largely serviceable and often perfect for a certain scene, but it sometimes bordered on ridiculous. Talk of hands remembering how to open doors and feet knowing how to be clever as if those body parts had their own brains made me roll my eyes. Miranda treating Phillips giving her bacon like it was a confession of love at one point made me roll my eyes again.

Back to the better points of the book. Few young adult authors have made attempts at writing about Roanoke and alchemy isn't a subject I've run across very often either. Her take on the colonists of Roanoke being alchemists searching for the secret to eternal life had me intrigued and I enjoyed the chance to read something outside the usual circle of plots and powers. I wish it could have been a little more fully explained, though. How little is known for sure about the colonists and the fictional nature of the novel gave it so much room to create an even deeper story of the colonists, but I know little more about these fictional ones than I do the real ones.

I wish Blackwood could have been a more solid novel, but Bond is an author I want to keep an eye on. I see promise in her and I'm all in for any more young adult novels she may choose to write.

3 stars!

What am I reading next?: Social Suicide by Gemma Halliday


  1. tnx 4 the honest review . i lov the cover . and native lore

  2. Roanoke is an interesting topic to write a book about, and while I hadn't heard of this book previously, it does sound very interesting. I may have to look it up sometime.


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