Blackwood, by Gwenda Bond

  • TITLE: Blackwood
  • AUTHOR: Gwenda Bond
  • PUBLISHER: Strange Chemistry
  • PUBLICATION DATE: 6th September 2012

It’s been an autumn of YA Fantasy so far, so I might as well keep up the trend—after all, I hold to it that the main difference between YA and standard fantasy (I refuse to call it “adult” fantasy, by the way) is marketing, and sometimes little more. A book is a book is a book: people are inevitably influenced by whatever is slapped on the spine and if that happens to be a YA imprint, then they see YA. My go-to example is Cinda Williams Chima’s Seven Realms series, which is found comfortably nestled between its supposedly grown-up big brothers and sisters, in the SFF section and not the Teen section. Sometimes it’s like Russian Roulette, trying to guess where a book will be put!

But without further rambling about what should really be a blog post of its own one day, onto Blackwood.

I don’t have that much reading time: I write during “work hours”, tied to my desk at home, and living with my brother, who is more like a twin, really, since we’re so similar, I end up spending evenings and weekends partaking in our joint hobbies of RPGs and gaming, and generally doing Stuff Together. That, and the cats take my time. All five of them.

The point I’m making is that Blackwood would not have found its way onto my reading list so quickly in ordinary circumstances. As it happens, I’ve been ill and my usual routine was thrown, and I have been eating books. I wanted more Strange Chemistry, but had just finished up all I had access to—save Broken, which I’ve been saving for over the Christmas holidays as a “people are visiting” read—and needed something good.

So, I took a look at the synopsis and put the cover out of my head whilst I considered it. Now, it’s not that I don’t like the cover; I do—as it happens, it’s a very pretty cover. But, it didn’t appeal to me, or draw me to the book. It was a little… well, I expected it to be a little too much like some of the Paranormal Romance-slash-Urban Fantasy I’ve seen out there, and I just wasn’t biting.

Oh, how wrong I was.

Ironically, the romance element of the story is probably my absolute favourite part. Hell, I love romance—who doesn’t? Everybody loves seeing the guy get the girl (or the girl get the girl/guy get the guy—it’s all love and it’s all quidditch to me!). So for there to be a believable, fun, tense romance between the characters, well, it was good. Yes, yes—so there’s lots of romance in YA. Well, ever think why? Maybe because young adults can appreciate that the world can be a good place, and that love is one of the things that makes it so. Adults can be so jaded sometimes. Regardless, Blackwood isn’t all about romance and lovey-dovey stuff; in fact, it’s a tense, eerie, creepy horror/fantasy story that knows exactly what it is doing and does it so well.

It’s a brilliant, gripping story with characters that are both engaging and likeable. I loved Blackwood. It’s another five-star book for me, which shows that Strange Chemistry get it right—a lot.

Blackwood tells the story of an American tale I’d never even heard of. It uses the mystery of Roanoke Island—where one hundred and fourteen colonists disappeared centuries before—to set the stage for a page-turning, exciting urban fantasy-esque story that is as cleverly thought out as it is executed. It’s an almost perfect book. In fact, nothing could have made it better for me: it was perfect. A standalone novel with great characters and a damn satisfying ending? What more could you ask for?

It’s also a story about belonging, and man if I don’t like stories about identity and belonging. They strike a chord. Miranda is the island’s freak; cursed and sorely missing her mother, yet estranged from her father due to his alcoholism. Yet, the relationship between father and daughter is far more complicated than that of a drunken, widower husband missing his wife and his neglected daughter. There is a deeper, darker story between the Blackwoods and their past than even outcast, awkward Miranda can realise. There is a darkness within her that she hasn’t even realised; a darkness that will try to change her and make her betray herself and everything she knows.

Phillips, on the other hand—son of the police chief of Roanoke—has his own issues. Descended from a line tied to the island as closely as the Blackwoods, yet with a completely different history interwoven with their bloodline, Phillips left the island as a way of dealing with the voices in his head. It’s not that he’s insane, just that he hears the voices of the dead, as loudly as if they were next to him, or as softly as a whisper, just on the edge of hearing—whichever they pick on the day. Driven from his home after giving his father no choice—after all, the son of the police chief cannot let his son be seen as a petty criminal without suffering more embarrassment than can reasonably be shaken off—Phillips has found peace from the voices and plans never to return to the island.

That is, of course, until events that he cannot ignore pull him back to Roanoke—and back to the voices. Soon, he finds himself drawn to Miranda and involved in something so twisted and extraordinary, that he must learn to accept what and who is he before he can even stand a chance of keeping Miranda and the rest of the island safe.

Bond writes a compelling, addictive story that merges together so many genres it’s difficult to really call it one or the other: with elements of romance, mystery, the supernatural and even horror, Blackwood is a unique, exciting story that kept me glued to the page.

It is an engrossing, detailed story that is deliciously written and marks Bond as a writer to look out for. She can write: her prose is quirky, fresh and absolutely fantastic.

All in all, Gwenda Bond’s Blackwood is a gorgeous adventure of a book that simply must be read.


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