When I saw Blackwood by Gwenda Bond and read the publisher’s description, I knew I had to snag a digital copy to read and review. I’m originally from North Carolina, so the story of the Lost Colony has always fascinated me. How could over 100 people just disappear like that?
Don’t get me wrong. Blackwood is not a historical novel although it has a lot of historical elements. It’s a contemporary YA novel filled with paranormal elements but centered on Manteo, NC (on the Outer Banks), The Lost Colony outdoor drama there, and the original Lost Colony. I think it’s going to appeal to history buffs, paranormal fans, and mystery fans of all ages. Have I peaked your curiosity yet?
When Sir Walter Raleigh and his cohorts convinced Queen Elizabeth to mount an expedition to the New World in the late 16th century, no one knew the mystery that would create; a mystery that lingers to this day. All of the people in the Roanoke Island Colony disappeared into thin air. The only clue left behind was the word “Croatoan” carved into a tree.
Theories abound about what became of Virginia Dare and over 100 other colonists. My favorite has always been that they joined one of the many local Native American tribes to survive because certain tribes in NC have had blue eyes as long as anyone remembers. Still, no one really knows to this day what became of them.
Seventeen-year-old Miranda Blackwood has loved working for The Lost Colony this summer. Being part of the island’s famous history and being around all of the creativity and energy the actors and crew bring has been wonderful. Most wonderful though has been that she’s been accepted for what she brings to the production instead of being labeled a freak and outcast because of her surname.
Near the end of the season, she’s watching the performance from the wings when she sees something bizarre, like an ominous, shadowy ship in the sky over the amphitheater – a ship no one else seems to see. Without thinking, Miranda races onstage to protect the child actress portraying Virginia Dare, and the ship vanishes. Awkward, since no one else knows why she’s done something so disruptive to the performance.
“The large unformed shape was simply a growing darkness until it resolved into an immense, old-fashioned black ship. The kind of ship used long ago by colonists and pirates. Strange gray symbols bloomed on each of three billowing sails, the shapes a mix of straight lines and arcs, a half-moon curving above a circle at the top. The sailcloth rippled in a wind that she didn’t feel on her skin.”
The Blackwoods have always been reviled on the small island as traitors but they’re unable to leave there. One of Margaret’s ancestors tried to leave and fell over dead. Since then, no Blackwood has had the courage to even try to leave. They’re believed to be cursed because an ancestor betrayed the Roanoke Island colony members. Margaret dreams of going somewhere else where she can be a normal person, where she’ll be treated with respect instead of looked down upon…but she’s stuck here.
“The first time Miranda Blackwood checked the back of her closet for a portal to another world she was eleven. That was the year her mother died…But Miranda grew up. She no longer hoped to step over a secret threshold and leave Roanoke Island behind forever.”
To make matters worse, her father is a drunk; there’s no other way to put it. At least he’s not a mean drunk. She’s used to it. It’s still humiliating to have to go get him when he ends up in jail again because a rookie hauls him in for having one too many, even though Sheriff Rawling is always very nice about it. When her dad doesn’t come home one night, she heads to the jail the next morning to see if he’s been arrested again but is shocked to see a large gathering outside the jailhouse. Then the sheriff makes a bizarre announcement, that over 100 people on the island have gone missing. Among the missing is Miranda’s dad. That seems impossible since he can’t leave the island, so how could he disappear?
The sheriff is desperate for answers to what’s happened, so he insists that his seventeen-year-old son Phillips return from boarding school to the island to use his gift/curse to help discover what became of so many people. Although Phillips never planned to return there, he’s not given a choice in the matter.
“He’d been thirteen when he’d first heard the spirits, the day his gran died. Unfamiliar voices cluttering his mind, so many and at such volume he could barely think. Once he decided he wasn’t going crazy (yet), it wasn’t that hard to figure out who the voices belonged to. The dead went everywhere on Roanoke Island that he did…Leaving had been his last hope. The further from the island they’d gotten, the more normal he felt. The voices quieted, and then disappeared.”
When Phillips arrives in Manteo the next day, the first place he goes is to Miranda’s house. He feels that together they have a better chance of solving this weird mystery than he will by himself. Besides he owes her since it was the voices talking through him that led to her becoming a pariah at school when they were thirteen. After ensuring she won’t shoot him with the ornate antique matchlock pistol she found in her dad’s closet, they haven’t even begun to piece together what they know about the disappearances when she gets a phone call from Sheriff Rawling. Her dad has been found. Unfortunately when they arrive at the jailhouse, they learn her father has been murdered.
“Miranda put her head down, her hair falling forward. Phillips wanted to do something to comfort her. He didn’t know how. So he sat there in shock, fixating on the number…now it was a hundred and fourteen people gone. The same number John White had left behind in 1587.”
Miranda is now completely alone in the world so he asks Phillips to take her by her mother’s grave site. While there, he puts his hand on the headstone without thinking and is immediately jolted because he hears the first voice he’s heard since he returned to Roanoke Island. That alone is weird since in the past his head teemed with the voices of the dead.
“Curse-bearer. Curse-bearer, she is a curse-born child.”
Where have Phillips’ inner voices gone and why is only one back? Can Phillips and Miranda discover who killed her father? What was the black ship Miranda saw? Could the new disappearances be somehow linked to the original Roanoke Colony settlers’ disappearances? Who can they go to and how can they discover how to get back the people who’ve disappeared?
I’ve cut my synopsis off fairly early in the book because I don’t want to give too much away. It’s so hard not to give more away when this story is such an amazing mix of historical figures, facts and theories as well as mystery and the paranormal, mystical, and magical.
Miranda and Phillips make an awesome team once they get over their past animosity. And, yes, there’s definitely a romantic spark there. I also loved a lot of the other characters including Phillips’ parents, crew from The Lost Colony I didn’t introduce you to like Polly, and other islanders. Then there’s the totally weird Dr. Whitson, who Phillips calls Dr. Roswell for his outlandish theories, and his son, Bones, one of Miranda’s classmates, who I despised at first but who grew on me as the story progressed.
Gwenda Bond has written an excellent debut novel in Blackwood. It drew me in on Page 1 and kept me entranced all the way through its rollercoaster ride of hairpin turns. I read it straight through because I couldn’t put it down – yep, another late night for me but so worth it! She got the historical elements dead-on and she nailed the island, and the paranormal/mystical elements were also perfect. I’m highly recommending this one, and not just for teens or young adults. Readers of all ages, male and female, will enjoy Blackwood!
Can’t wait to read it?
Blackwood will be published on September 4, 2012 in the US and on September 6, 2012 in the UK; however, it should be available for pre-order from your favorite bookseller below. Just click the button to go there to get it.
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