Sunday, July 29, 2012

Review: Blackwood

by Gwenda Bond

Available as: paperback, Kindle edition, ebook
Pages: 416
Publisher: Strange Chemistry
Release date: September 4, 2012
Suggested tags: young adult, paranormal, romance

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."

{ I received this as an ebook ARC from NetGalley. }

It kills me that I didn't like Blackwood more. It sounded so amazing in the synopsis - a historical mystery, recurring in the present? And two teens who have a bit of the paranormal about them, solving the mystery and falling in love along the way? Told in a "dark, witty" voice? What's not to love??

Well, for me, quite a lot, unfortunately.

I guess my main problem with Blackwood is that I feel like the synopsis really built up the book, and the book just didn't deliver. At the beginning, we kind of get a rushed backstory for Miranda, letting you know that *something* terrible happened to her, and it was Phillips' fault, and he left town. But it's hard to figure out exactly what Bond is trying to get you to deduce... Did Phillips call her names? Did he do something to her physically? Was she just embarrassed or was this a serious attack? It doesn't seem to matter, because despite the build up that Phillips is a bad boy and that something potentially unforgivable happened between them, they still start forming their relationship almost instantly when they're reunited.

The historical aspect wasn't nearly as strong as I had hoped. The disappearance of the 114 was exciting, and the flashes told from the perspective of the missing were well done. But those flashes almost seemed like they were written by a different author; the tone was different, more serious, and the writing itself seemed more sophisticated. When it goes back to Miranda and Phillips' point of view, the writing becomes kind of juvenile: choppy sentences, snarky one-liners at inappropriate times, and over-explanations of the character's thoughts and actions. The over-explaining is a big pet peeve of mine. As an author, if you have to tell your readers why your character just thought or acted the way they did, you're doing something wrong. Either you're underestimating (and insulting) your audience by thinking they're too dumb to follow along, or you're not writing well enough to get your story to carry itself.

The book is sold in the synopsis as "dark," but the teenage sarcasm that Bond tries to squeeze in at every possible opportunity keeps the book from becoming anything serious. Fear never edges the story, and that "dark" feeling never creeps in, because the characters are always reacting inappropriately. Towards the end of the book, as the action is reaching the climax in the midst of what could be an exciting, tense moment, as people are being attacked around him and federal agents are on his heels, Phillips casually throws back a sarcastic half-apology for his actions earlier in the book. (SPOILER - highlight to read: And at one point, Miranda is face to face with John Dee, the devil, and they have what could be a really creepy and striking scene where they dance together. Miranda is literally dancing with the devil. This should be a serious moment in the book, right? Bond should be able to make her readers feel something here. It starts out pretty well... Bond writes, "Her hand vibrated with invisible ick she would never get rid of. He touched it. He danced with her. He wanted her." Alright, I'm there, I'm in Miranda's head, and then-- "She officially had devil cooties." ... COME ON. That's how you're going to end this moment?? It might as well have never even happened.) It just ruins everything. If you're trying to write a dark story, don't inject "humor" into every other sentence. Let your characters show some fear and emotion. If they don't, your readers won't either. I sure didn't.

Unfortunately, Blackwood was just honestly nothing more than "ok" for me. I couldn't even find any quotes I liked (which is unheard of for me as a reader; I usually have an issue with over-highlighting). Maybe my problem with this book is that I came into it with the wrong mindset, thinking this was going to be a thrilling, darkly told reimagining of the Roanoke Island mystery. But instead it was a light read where the pace was good but the action was prevented from being anything too serious. The alchemy aspect was kind of hard to follow and left me with lots of questions (SPOILER - highlight to read: How exactly would the gun have granted immortality, if it had gone off? Did the fish and insects come back to life too after John Dee died, like all the missing did? What happened to the spirits? Are they dead for good now or are they back in the in-between?). The end of the book, with Miranda and Phillips in the car, was pretty powerful well written, but I would have liked that tone and writing style throughout the rest of the book too. It was a serious, meaningful ending that mismatched the casual, "witty" story that preceded it.

(ps. I could do without reading the fake-curse "frak" ever again. Miranda said it pleeennnty of times for me.)

Overall rating: 2 out of 5 stars


  1. Sorry it wasn't as good as you hoped it would be.
    I've learned to keep expectation low when starting new books or series. You can only go up from there LOL
    new follower!

    1. haha so true! Thanks so much for reading my review and for the follow! I'm a new follower of yours as well! :)