Blackwood by Gwenda Bond
Official 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.
Blackwood is a dark, witty coming of age story that combines America’s oldest mystery with a thoroughly contemporary romance.”
In the late 1500’s, the English settlers on Roanoke Island disappeared, leaving in their wake a persistent mystery. Did the settlers leave? If so, where did they go and why? Gwenda Bond uses this mystery as a springboard for her fantasy novel, Blackwood. The book follows Miranda Blackwood, a girl from a family with a long and troubled history on the island. She has grown up with people denigrating her family and her own father has told her that she will never be able to leave the island. Since her mother’s death, she must care for both herself and her alcoholic father. As others around her plan to leave the island when they graduate from high school, she instead sees herself trapped by the island and by her responsibilities to her father. One of her few pleasures is her work with a local theater company each summer, but even this sanctuary is invaded as the book begins when she suddenly sees a phantom ship sailing through the audience and up to the stage. This initial vision proves to be a precursor to many strange happenings around town, including the disappearance of her father and 114 other members of the community. Miranda, with the help of Phillips who grows from enemy to friend to more over the course of the book, must figure out the mystery of this disappearance as well as that of her heritage in order to save her family and her town.
In Blackwood, the reader discovers the histories and destinies of both Phillips and Miranda as they are discovering this information. While many supernatural, young adult novels tell the story of teenagers finding their destiny, this book offers a very different take on this story as it tells the story of two teenagers whose ancestries are coming back to haunt them. Neither Miranda nor Phillips have been given the full information about their ties to Roanoke Island, though both have sensed that they are different. While Phillips fled the island to try to find a place where he would feel more normal, Miranda has always known that she will never have that option. This unique set up makes Blackwood an intriguing read. Bond takes this promising premise and builds a satisfying mystery that will keep readers guessing about exactly what is going on until the very end. Throughout, the mystery plays with the real facts that are known about the residents of the original Roanoke Island, choosing how to represent these facts for the purpose of the story. This hint of real history will appeal to readers who enjoy historical fiction as well as paranormal tales.
While I felt that some of the mystery was never adequately explained and some details strained my suspension of disbelief, the story is fun and entertaining with elements for fans of mysteries, supernatural stories and romance. I think teens will enjoy this new tale and many of them will become intrigued with the history of Roanoke Island when they read the novel.
Readalike: While the subject matters differ, I think fans of Blackwood will also enjoy Anna Dressed in Blood and its sequel, The Girl of Nightmares. Those inspired by the historical elements of this story will enjoy A Break With Charity by Ann Rinaldi, a historical novel of the Salem Witch Trials.
Note: Review based on ARC from publisher.