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English teacher interested in language and culture, and also in fiction using magic, myth, folklore and the supernatural. Now working freelance, teaching and writing for children, teens and teachers.

Thursday, 30 August 2012

Thrilling Thursday Review: Blackwood by Gwenda Bond

Mysterious and tense mix of history and fantasy.

Author: Gwenda Bond
Title: Blackwood
Genre: Fantasy (YA)
Publisher: Strange Chemistry
Published: 6 September 2012

Source: review copy kindly sent from the publisher

Find it at Goodreads or Amazon UK

The blurb says:
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.

My verdict: brilliant combination of historical mystery and fantasy. Highly recommended.
I was initially attracted to this title by the element of mystery surrounding the real-life unexplained disappearance of the Roanoke settlers. The blurb also promises a hint of magic and the supernatural with a reference to 'long-dead alchemists' and Phillips' ability to hear the voices of the dead. All of that added up to a big draw for me. I was not disappointed. I picked the book up to have a quick flick through the beginning and rapidly found myself deep enough in to need to finish it (ahead of other review books that had arrived sooner - argh!). Thank goodness books don't feel jealousy!

This is an assured debut. I've seen some Goodreads reviews criticising its execution, but I genuinely don't see what they do. I would also say that if you worry about how likely and realistic events in your reading matter are, you might want to consider a different genre than fantasy...

It's narrated in the third person, allowing the author to present the action from both protagonists' perspective at different times. I appreciated the insight into both Miranda and Phillips that this gave us, and also enjoyed seeing them through each other's eyes. Both are great characters, damaged and rebellious in their own ways. Miranda is no simpering heroine provoked into action - she's already developed personal strength and mechanisms for coping with her less-than-perfect life before the plot's major events contrive to challenge her further. And Phillips is no simple swoon-worthy boy. Yes, he's got a history as a bad boy and is clearly 'troubled', but not in a straightforward bully-boy way. Nor does he fit the annoyingly common stereotype of the nasty-yet-intriguing-boy-who-can-be-saved-by-love. Hurrah! I also found their developing relationship convincing, in its intensity while they're really in the thick of things contrasting their more usual awkwardness with one another. That aspect has an emotional truth to it, I feel.

The plot is fab, blending elements of magic and mystery with solid historical research. I don't know much about Roanoke, but the history of magic is something I've been interested in for a while, and I was thrilled to find a familiar name appear in the story. I like how Gwenda Bond has painted a picture of Roanoke as a place invested with its mysterious history, through the play that Miranda is involved in. In her version of the place, it is impossible to escape the past. The setting has a definite 'small town' feel, with everyone knowing everyone else's business; the kind of place where what your Great-Grandfather did affects how people treat you.

Overall, I really enjoyed this. It isn't quite like anything else I've read, combining history, magic and mystery but in a contemporary setting.

4 comments:

  1. I'm going to have to give this one a go. I like the sound of the premise. I wonder what the Goodreads people didn't like about the execution.

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  2. It's not a book I would have gone for normally but you do make it sound interesting!

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  3. I've had this one on my shelf for a little one, sounds like a book I'll have to push up my pile :)

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  4. I've not heard of this one before, but having read your review it does sound good! :) Will look out for it, thanks.

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