Blackwood by Gwenda Bond

As a general policy I tried to read books written by people I know, no matter how tangentially.  I have read a number of books by “bloggers” turned authors (or aspiring authors who I “met” via blogging/internet).  I have for the most part been pleasantly surprised by the quality of writing.

And now I can add Gwenda Bond to the list.  Having an interest in YA fiction I enjoyed reading Gwenda’s blog and following her on Twitter.  So when I found out she had a book, Blackwood, coming out I requested it from the wonderful folks at NetGalley and managed to swipe a copy.  I figured it was about time to post something (besides being incredibly behind on my reviews, I was also waiting to review this book until we got a little closer to release date).

Here is the publishers summary:

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.

Despite not really being my genre (I like YA but this is a bit more romance and paranormal that I usually read), turned out it was a rather impressive debut. An intriguing and well done plot hook, some engaging and interesting characters and a good pace.

The interesting plot hook is the history of The Lost Colony and Roanoke Island obviously.  Gwenda weaves in history and then adds a fantastical element that I thought was suspenseful and yet subtle in many ways.

The real focus is on relationships; Miranda and her father, Miranda and the island, Miranda and Phillips; Phillips and his family, etc.  There are some common elements (coming of age, ostracized girl falls for popular boy, evil powers seek to control community and kids must save the day, even a heroic dog) but it has enough of a different style and tone that it doesn’t feel stale or over-worked.

Miranda and Phillips relationship was well done; it had the tension, awkwardness and cheesiness that seemed appropriate and real. And some of the other minor characters were well done and added to the story

If there was a weakness it was in weaving in all of the various pieces and parts and making them seamless. There are a number of different styles and genre elements, not too mention plots and subplots, and weaving all of this into a smooth story is quite a challenge.  So it is not all that surprising that a first time author couldn’t always pull it off perfectly or, well, seamlessly.

Minor criticisms aside, I think anyone who enjoys YA – particularly the paranormal romance side – will enjoy this debut.  It has a nice blend of action, mystery and romance and is creative and witty without trying to hard to be cute.
But a fun and interesting read.

Kevin Holtsberry
I work in communications and public affairs. I try to squeeze in as much reading as I can while still spending time with my wife and two kids (and cheering on the Pittsburgh Steelers and Michigan Wolverines during football season).

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