Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Lily's review of Blackwood, by Gwenda Bond


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.
Expected publication: September 4th 2012 by Strange Chemistry  

Lily's Rating: didn't like it it was ok liked it (my current rating) really liked it it was amazing

'Blackwood' caught my eye based solely on its beautiful and eye catching cover. Though I, like many other readers, JUDGE NOT by a cover, how can you resist a cover like this?  Throw in a blurb about a century plus old mystery, which reenacts again on the same island, and I was game.

This novel moved a little slowly for me, though it was packed with action. And initially I could not put my finger on it.  There was so much happening all the time, and yet, I sighed repeatedly wishing the plot would move along.

And then EUREKA! I think I figured out my issue. 

The tension building was in all the wrong places.

114 disappear. Holy crap, that's scary. Then... POOF!... they return. BUT there was no focus on the reactions of the town, nevermind that there was no believable reaction! If there was major confusion, curiosity or elation at seeing loved ones suddenly return, I didn't really feel it. Even Miranda didn't really question two of her friends, she pretty much accepted their return and moved on. Which I found odd. I would be vomiting questions, left right and center! But without going into major spoilers... Miranda's reaction, or lack of, to one very important person's return especially, was baffling for the lack of complete and utter shock, of which I know most people may feel.  Once again, there was unnatural acceptance that all was not right, and moved on...

I wish the author had focused on the odd behaviors as well, and built tension there. It would be scary if a loved one went missing, then suddenly reappeared and didn't behave like themselves. I would be really creeped out. Maybe downright terrified. And there was no real reader exposure to those feelings in the book.  Miranda and Phillips were on a mission, and while I understand that action time needs to be devoted to that, there is only so much tension you can develop with that particular focus. I would have been riveted as a reader, if some of that focus was diverted to really exploring the oddness of the return, of their behaviors, etc...

Moving on to the positives, I did enjoy this novel. I thought the premise was incredibly interesting.  I have visited North and South Carolina a few times in my life, and honestly, never heard of Roanoke Island or its mysterious legend of the colony disappearance.  This book definitely made me curious enough to spend a few hours googling the heck out of 'Roanoke Island', losing  much needed sleep, to satisfy my curiosity.  

I really enjoyed Miranda and Phillips' characters. The undertone of their attraction and budding romance was endearing. I wanted Phillips to just MAKE A MOVE ALREADY!!! Phillips 'gift' was curious and fascinating, though I wish there had been more focus on that as well, as I was very curious at what the voices assaulting him were really saying... as in, most of the time, and not just on a couple of occasions.

The author's own original take on this legend and then intertwining it into a present day disappearance and reappearance was very fascinating. There were constant spurts of action that made it really difficult to put the novel down.

The ending was a mixture of 'meh' and 'Cool!'. I did like how the author ended the last scene. However, the 'big reveal' was not as explosive as I wished it had been. 

Regardless of my mixed feelings, I did like Gwenda Bond's style and imagination, and will look forward to future novels. There is definitely a lot of potential there and hope that it really comes through in future works.  

This novel was kindly provided by the publisher via

About the Author:
(pic & bio from Goodreads.com)

Gwenda Bond's debut young adult novel BLACKWOOD is forthcoming in September 2012 from Strange Chemistry, the new YA imprint of Angry Robot Books.

She is also a contributing writer for Publishers Weekly, regularly reviews for Locus, and guest-edited a special YA issue of Subterranean Online. Her nonfiction work has appeared in the Washington Post, Lightspeed, and Strange Horizons, among others, and she has been a guest on NPR's Weekend Edition. She holds an MFA in Writing from the Vermont College of Fine Arts' program in writing for children and young adults. But readers of Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet may know her best as everyone's Dear Aunt Gwenda.

She lives in a hundred-year-old house in Lexington, Kentucky, with her husband author Christopher Rowe, and their pets: Hemingway the Cat, Polydactyl, LLC; Miss Emma the Dog-Girl, CPA; and Puck the Puppy, INC.


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