Blackwood, by Gwenda Bond

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Author’s website
Publication date – September 4, 2012

Summary: (Taken from GoodReads) 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.

Thoughts: As much as I read YA novels, I can be extraordinarily picky about them. Too much romance, too much stereoptypically girly stuff, too many cases of teenagers outsmarting adults, and I just get turned right off. I can accept that the writing in those books can be good, but they’re really just not for me.

And as much as I was willing to take a chance on it, I feared that Blackwood would be the same. Full of stuff I couldn’t relate to and had little interest in.

Imagine my surprise when it wasn’t.

There is romance (there are precious few YA paranormal novels that don’t involve romance), but it wasn’t of the sappy “one true love” variety that’s saturating the market these days. You’ve got two people in a tense and dangerous situation who appear to understand each other better than anyone else they’ve come across. True, atfirst the romance did seem a little bit contrived (here’s a boy and a girl, and they’re important to the plot, so they have to get together), but as we read more and discover more about their personalities, they do turn out to be quite a good fit for each other.

I was expecting the story to be a somewhat lackluster paranormal setting, too. It seemed that way from the book’s synopsis (though as I said, it was intriguing enough for me to read the book anyway). However, what I got was more than a bargained for. Not just a bunch of people disappearing, but also centuries-old alchemists, spiritual transference, psychic abilities, and a pair of teenager outcasts at the centre of it all. It may sound a little cheesy, but it worked, and it was plain to see that the author did some solid research in writing this story.

As characters, Miranda and Phillips were fun to read about. Miranda is a misfit from a so-called cursed family, her father is an alcoholic, and she seems to find her comfort in current geek media. Many references were made to TV shows that are in the geek mainstream, and that alone made me relate to Miranda a little bit more. Phillips was less geeky, more of the kind of guy who ignored authority, but he certainly had a smooth and wicked sense of humour, and wasn’t afraid to take risks. He had a devil-may-care attitude without being the sort of person who only rebels for rebellion’s sake.  Put together, the pair made for interesting reading.

They were a little too in tune with each other, though, especially when it came to leaps of logic. More than once, I found scenes in which one character would jump to a conclusion based on gut instinct or a sudden revelation, and not only were they always right, but when they were tell only a brief amount to the other, they were suddenly both on the same page, with the same agreements and same understanding of the situation as though they had both been connected at the brain. If Phillips had the ability to hear the thoughts of the living instead of just the dead, that would have been easier to forgive. Instead, it came across more as though the author didn’t want to spend a few pages of writing the two characters catching up.

And I can’t say I blame her, really, in some cases. From the perspective of a reader, we don’t always want to hear the same thing repeated 10 times as all the characters finally get something. But on the other hand, when you combine it with the occasional leap of logic, it seemed a little bit odd that they would both instantly grasp the same conclusion on nothing more than knowing the other person thought it.

While the pacing of the novel was certainly good, the tone made me feel distanced from the characters on more than one occasion. The opening scene, for one. We’re supposed to be getting a feel for Miranda, and I know that it’s supposed to feel as though we’re sitting on her shoulder to be a part of the action, but it feels very removed, almost more like we’re watching the scene from a distance rather than being in the middle of it. That cleared up later on, but sometimes that sense of removal from the scene returned for brief moments.

Also, I would like to take a spoilerific moment and say that the dog did not die! I get worried whenever I watch or read anything where a main character has a beloved pet, because all too often, that pet is there for no other purpose than to tug at your heartstrings when they die later on. And I thought for a moment that Bond was going to succumb to that trope, and I was going to be mightily disappointed. Angry, even, because as sad as those deaths are, it’s getting painfully obvious why they’re there, and it’s ceased to be anything but a gimmick. But I was thrilled to find out that no, Sidekick did not die, and I could celebrate seeing a happy subversion to a really annoying trope. Kudos to you for that, Gwenda Bond!

Ultimately, in spite of its flaws, Blackwood was a good YA novel that pleasantly surprised me on more than one occasion, and dealt with an old American legend that had nothing to do with vampires or werewolves. I’m definitely interested in reading more of Bond’s work, which is good, because I hear she’s currenly working on a second novel. If you’re a fan of creative and geeky YA paranormal tales, this is definitely one to check out.

(Received for review from the publisher via NetGalley.)

4 comments on “Blackwood, by Gwenda Bond

  1. Pingback: Interview with Gwenda Bond « Bibliotropic

  2. Pingback: September recap « Bibliotropic

  3. Pingback: The Woken Gods, by Gwenda Bond | Bibliotropic

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