Blackwood by Gwenda Bond

Happy 4th of July, American friends! Here’s a book review for you.

Blackwood by Gwenda BondBlackwood by Gwenda Bond
Published: Strange Chemistry (2012), eBook, 416pg
Source: Bought
Genres: Contemporary Fantasy, Fantasy, Fiction

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.

I bought this book because it sounded frickin’ awesome! A fantasy built around the disappearance of the 114 Roanoke colonists? So cool!

However, while I still think the plot exciting and the characters adorable, overall the book left me feeling underwhelmed.

First, the good: Roanoke Island’s mysterious past has always interested me, and I love that Blackwood uses that as its basis for the story. So cool! And I thought it was really fun that John Dee and his army of crazy alchemists got worked in, too. Ridiculous, but fun.

The characters were also great! Phillips was sweet and kind and adorable. Miranda was tragic and complicated and though she desperately needed to read some more fantasy books and become more genre savvy, I liked her, too. They made a great team: Phillips kept Miranda from getting too angsty, and Miranda kept Phillips from, y’know, dying.

However, the un-savvy re:genres part is kinda was killed the book for me. The WHOLE BOOK Miranda goes around thinking she’s cursed and a terrible person. Her family somehow betrayed the original Roanoke settlers or something and thus her life deserves to be terrible. Except that a) nobody every really explains how her family is actually cursed– like, how does the curse manifest? by making her dad a drunk?– and b) anyone who’d read even one fantasy book would know the “twist” that happens near the end.

Both a and b gave me problems. A, because I wanted to see actual evidence that Miranda’s family had magical-manifested problems. Like, her dad was an alcoholic and that’s bad, yeah, but that’s basically all that was wrong.1 I’m assuming that Roanoke Island is such a small place2 that an alcoholic father is enough to give people an excuse to ostracize Miranda, and that’s totally enough to be upset about. But I don’t see how that would tie into the curse part.

Miranda spends so much time worrying about what the curse means– particularly re:her ancestor who contracted the curse– that it takes away from her real life teenager worries about her father/her life/her boyfriend/etc. She thinks her ancestor betrayed the island. But why does she care so much? Would someone really worry more about what their family did hundreds of years ago than what’s going on today? Particularly since Miranda didn’t even know there was something supernatural about her “curse” until the ghosts started showing up.

I know people focus on stupid stuff when they’re under a lot of stress, but the curse is so relatively benign that it becomes a bit silly to worry so MUCH about it. When the curse manifests into Miranda, it makes her clumsy. Clumsiness is a kind of bad luck, I guess? But that’s it.

Teenagers are already clumsy! After so much build-up of “omg the CURSE WILL KILL US ALL,” the actual curse was a huge let down.

It’s like the emotional reaction to the family’s “curse” is more effective than the physical aspect. While I can get behind that in theory, in practice I wanted some super creepy curse-related stuff to happen and it never did. Think of The Omen. That’s what I wanted! Not some stumbling around.

And then came my problem with b, the “twist” that I saw coming from chapter 1. Was it supposed to be a surprise? Was I not supposed to guess what was going to happen? I don’t find it satisfying to guess a major plot development 300 pages before it actually occurs and knowing that was hanging over me dragged the book’s ending way down.

So I liked the story, the creepy island elements, and the romance (which was adorable), but I did NOT like the mopey teenage angst aspect when I knew from early on that it was completely unwarranted. I couldn’t take Miranda’s “omg I am doomed” when I knew it was BS from the start.

I have another Gwenda Bond book in my TBR pile! I will definitely read it, and hope for less obvious plot twists.

Read: June 23-27, 2014

  1. She also had a dead mother, but I don’t think she died because of the curse?
  2. there’s about 6,724 people living on it as of 2000.

2 thoughts on “Blackwood by Gwenda Bond”

  1. Did you change your blog header, or did I just forget what your blog header looked like? (Probably the second one. My brain is awful at remembering images.)

    I’m glad nobody is forgetting about John Dee. It is the best when authors fetch out historical figures who were reputed to be magical in their own time, and are just like, Yep! Correct! He was magical! That is delightfully nerdy to me.

    1. I changed it last month, right before ALA. 🙂 I’m hoping the simplicity of it will mean I’ll keep it around for a while? I’m tired of changing my header/theme/etc. every few months. I want something to stick.

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