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.
Bond’s writing perfectly captures the uncertainty in Miranda’s character. Due to the Blackwood family curse, she has been ostracised by many of the townsfolk, young and old alike. They all consider her bad luck and not worthy of their time. Rather than give in to this, Miranda has developed a determined streak that keeps her driven to uncover the truth.
The other main character is Philips Rawlings. He has spent a long time away from Roanoke trying to escape powers that he doesn’t fully understand. His return to the island is prompted by a request from his father, the local police chief. Can Philips overcome his own fears and harness his ‘gift’ to locate the missing islanders?
One of the core components of Blackwood is the relationship between Miranda and Philips. It comes across as genuine, and as the story continues there is a noticeable evolution between the two characters. Everything that happens between the two seem very organic and unforced. The author manages to effectively convey that awkwardness that comes with teenage interactions, and it makes the conversations between the two flow quite naturally.
That said, there was one thing about Miranda that I wasn’t sure about. She has a habit of using the word ‘Frak’. Now, I don’t have a problem with a bit of geeky slang, can’t go wrong with the odd Battlestar Galactica reference, but I think it was a little bit over used. I appreciate that this novel is aimed at a young adult audience, and there have to be references that the readers will understand and find relevant. In this one instance I think that less repetition of that one word would have been just as effective.
The historical/supernatural elements of the plot are certainly intriguing; how does an entire village of over a hundred people just disappearing for no obvious reason? And why does it appear that the same thing is happening again? Weird, unexplained occurrences like this are exactly the sort if thing that is guaranteed to keep me reading.
The story does have a nicely creepy X-Files-esque vibe that is present in the entire narrative, this sets a good tone. The pacing works and the final reveal fits snuggly within the confines of the rest of the story. The author’s descriptive skills are well honed and it’s easy to picture the remote locations as the plot unfolds.
Overall, for a debut novel, I think that Blackwood works pretty well. As I mentioned before, I’m not a hundred percent sold on some of the dialogue that Miranda uses but this really is a very minor quibble.
If you enjoy supernatural teen dramas liked Teen Wolf or The Vampire Diaries then I think that Blackwood may be the book for you.
Blackwood is published by Strange Chemistry and is available now.