Book Review: 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 (from

With so many books cramming under the YA paranormal/fantasy genre it takes something with a stroke of originality to stand out. Gwenda Bond’s Blackwood certainly has that. Whilst unfamiliar with the centuries old mystery of Roanoke Island, I was intrigued by the synopsis and idea of a creepy island where so many people can just vanish into seemingly thin air.

And Blackwood is very creepy. Right from the beginning Bond creates a tense and sinister atmosphere that has the hairs standing up on the back of your neck. It reminded me a little of the Lois Duncan books I read years ago. As a story it grips you, giving very little information and keeping the reader firmly in the dark which results in the ‘one more page’ syndrome. 

Gwenda Bond’s characterisation is pretty spot on too. I really like Miranda who is genuinely strong, brave and compassionate. I liked how the author wasn’t afraid to give her flaws, for instance her feelings towards her father were believable and human considering the circumstances. It could have seemed cold, but I think we’re given enough background to empathise with Miranda and understand her feelings. It was fascinating to see Miranda come to terms with her ancestors history and thus understand herself. I also quite enjoyed the romance in this book, which seemed to develope rather than just happen. You got the impression that the chemistry between Miranda and Phillips had history without it being spelt out. And as far as villains go, Blackwood has a good one with an authentic motive.

So, mainly I really enjoyed Blackwood. However I have one small quibble. I was left a little confused a couple of times…in particular with Phillips and his ‘gift’. He apparently hears voices of the dead, but in no coherent manner and ends up being pretty useless from what I could tell. I’m not convinced that it was wholly necessary the way it was executed.  I also found the switching narrative a little annoying and jumpy. Usually I love this technique but it didn’t work as well for me this time. Maybe it’s just me who failed to fully concentrate or maybe it was the formatting of the e-book proof I read…in which case is no fault of the book itself.

Overall Blackwood is a great, unputdownable read and the occasional confusion was far outweighed by the good. With a tantalising combination of witchcraft, alchemy, legend and a quest for eternal life, it’s a book to keep you up late into the night. If you’re looking for an original, creepy book then you won’t go wrong with Blackwood.

Published by Strange Chemistry (UK) September 2012
My copy was an e-book arc sourced from Netgalley.

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