Blackwood is Gwenda Bond’s début novel, out from Strange Chemistry, the YA imprint of Angry Robot, on the 4th of September.
I loved it.
It’s a dark fantasy story about mysterious events on Roanoak Island. After the original colonists had come from England to settle Roanoak Island, all 114 of them mysteriously disappeared (and that part is actually true, more or less). Now, in the present day, Miranda Blackwood and Phillips are caught up in events surrounding a second disappearance of exactly the same number of people. To top it all off, Miranda is cursed and Phillips hears voices.
I really loved both the main characters in this book. They work well together, playing off each other as equals. Rather than having one be the damsel in distress, both had different talents which together help them save the day. At the start, the transition from wariness to friendship is a bit rapid but I think given the circumstances (and especially since we actually get to see what’s going through both of their heads) it was justified. Both characters are sensible and both keep trying to trick the other into letting them keep them safe, which was endearing.
The other thing that made me happy in this book were the pop culture references. Often when (US) authors are trying to be “now” or whatnot, the references to non-universal brands go meaninglessly over my head, sometimes leaving behind confusion. Bond, however, has both her characters be a bit geeky so their references are to things like Battlestar Galactica and Firefly. Obviously, as a geek, I appreciated that, but I also thought they were grounded enough that if you hadn’t seen Firefly, you’d still get the point.
The ending of Blackwood was a bit heavy but all the more meaningful for it. No spoilers of course, but the difficult situation presented and the way it was dealt with is what pushed this book from an excellent 4.5 stars to one of my favourites of the year with 5 stars. The difficult obstacle was handled in a non-superficial way that I haven’t seen that often in YA.
All in all, I enjoyed Blackwood a lot and I’ll definitely be keeping an eye out for Bond’s future works. I recommend it to anyone who enjoys spec fic YA or wants a short fantasy read.
5 / 5 stars