Being a complete and total history nerd, I was that kid in class who would totally sit up straight and pay attention during the interesting things like The Salem Witch Trials, the Inquisition, and yes, the whole Roanoke mystery. Which okay, basically what happened is, these very early settlers were chilling out on Roanoke Island and were kind of isolated, right? So, this guy John White leaves the island to go hang out in England for a little bit. Then three years later he comes back and EVERYONE DISAPPEARS! All he can find is a tree with Croatoan carved into it. Blackwood by debut author Gwenda Bond takes on that part of history, but puts it in a modern day setting, like the whole book takes place in modern day Roanoke and y’all, all I can say is I am freakin’ pumped a YA author has FINALLY taken on the Roanoke mystery, that noise is FASCINATING.
Instead of being super lucky and the one who will save everyone, the girl people fall all over to please, main character Miranda Blackwood inherits a curse. You see, the residents of Roanoke kind of think that the Blackwood family had a large role to play with the original disappearance of the settlers. So, Miranda grows up being totally alienated and bullied, but instead of being a sad sack of bones, she grows a thick skin and has a dignified inner strength that I admired. When history repeats itself, and over 100 people disappear into thin air AGAIN, it is up to Miranda and kind-of-sort-of love interest Phillips (a boarding school boy who just came back to the island) to set things to rights. What they uncover is a vast alchemical conspiracy, and well, you’ll have to actually READ Blackwood to find out how it all plays out.
Like I said above, I liked Miranda as one of the main characters of Blackwood. The story goes back and forth between Miranda and Phillips. Miranda is very much a no-nonsense sort of girl and does the best she can with the lot she has been dealt in life. I like that she tries to overcome her genetics and her curse to do what is right, even if she may be fated to betray everyone. I was not so keen on Phillips at first and it took me awhile to warm to him, because he’s described as being kind of a jerk in the beginning. However, once we get to the heart of why Phillips seems like a jerk and learn about his pranking attics, he’s quite endearing. I thought he provided an interesting counter and balance to Miranda’s character. Phillips is not at all cursed and kind of a golden boy, if that makes sense. YET, he also has this paranormal ability. Plus, the banter between Miranda and Phillips is TOTALLY adorable.
I liked that Gwenda Bond’s Blackwood explored good and evil and whether they are inherent traits or not. Like, for instance, there is main character Miranda who is kind of sort of CURSED and might end up betraying Phillips and doing some evil. Will she be able to fight the evil within? That’s kind of one of the central questions of the book. Then we have Phillips whose family legacy is light and hope, however there’s really no question over whether Phillips will do the right thing or not. I wish that Phillips had been a little more nuanced as a character, as far as good and evil goes, but I still ended up liking him, if that makes sense. I did, on the other hand, identify with Miranda Blackwood much more because she actively tries to fight her family reputation and is a complicated lady. To me, that makes her interesting to read about.
Unfortunately, Blackwood was not exactly a perfect read for me. I felt that some of the transitions were a bit clunky. When the story switched from Miranda to Phillips, my attention waned. I also found myself confused during some of the action scenes and confused as to what some of the character motivations were. Now, I did read an e-galley, so perhaps this doesn’t happen in the final version (which I will be purchasing in December). I guess, I would have liked a smoother sort of story.
Blackwood by Gwenda Bond takes on history’s most interesting lore with intriguing characters. Unfortunately, the writing wasn’t quite perfect, but I thought the character of Miranda Blackwood made up for that. As this is Bond’s first book, I’m looking forward to what she comes out with next and am optimistic. I think that if you like history, curses, alchemy and characters up against the odds, you might like this one and should definitely give Blackwood a chance.
Disclosure: Received for review via Netgalley
Other reviews of Blackwood by Gwenda Bond:
Feeling Fictional – “a story that will keep you gripped and make you desperate to uncover the mystery”