Blackwood was one of these Strange Chemistry titles that I very nearly didn’t bother to read. The cover didn’t draw me to the book: it seemed a little too aimed at girls for my liking, and I somehow had never taken in the synopsis of it in properly. If not for my avid reader of a brother, this book would have passed me by and it would have been a damned pity. As it turns out, Blackwood is a fierce contender for the spot as my favourite Strange Chemistry book (although I do have quite a few left to read!), and turned out to be a damned good read to end last year on.
Blackwood tells the story of Miranda, who lives on Roanoke Island—a place of mystery where 114 people went missing with no trace in the incident known as the Lost Colony—alone with her drunkard of her father and her faithful dog. Miranda has heard all her life people calling her father—and herself—cursed, and has long since learnt to live with the way other people look at her and the belief that she cannot leave the island. Miranda’s life has always been fairly boring and she sought escape through TV series and movies, trying to find a place where she didn’t feel so much like she didn’t belong, and worked at night with the theatre company that re-enacted the story of the Lost Colony for tourists and locals alike.
It is at work one night that Miranda sees something that will change her life: a black, ghostly ship glides above the land, and no one but Miranda seems to be able to see it and the mysterious symbols that cover it. Miranda returns home only to find that 114 people have gone missing and that her father has been found dead, believed to be murdered.
Enter Philips. A young man the same age as Miranda and the son of the police chief, Philips hasn’t lived on the island for a few years, having done all he could so that his parents would send him to boarding school far away. But Philips didn’t turn bad boy out of choice, more so necessity: whilst on the island, Philips can hear the voices of the dead, talking and whispering to him, hardly giving him enough thinking space of his own. But when people go missing, his father calls him back to the island, hoping that he could help. But it is for Miranda—a girl the voices warn him is cursed—that Philips returns after he sees her on the TV.
From this point onwards, Philips and Miranda are forced to join forces in an attempt to unravel the truth behind what happened to the Lost Colony and find a way to put an end to what is going on around them. But with the weight of history weighing on both of their shoulders and people expecting them to stand on opposite sides of the equation instead of together, they will have to use all of their wits if they are to survive and save the people they care for. They will have to battle things worse than what either of them could have imagined as friends turn foe and history threatens to not only repeat itself, but transform everything that Philips and Miranda know.
Bond flawlessly skips from Miranda to Philips’ POV and each have their distinctive voices that carry the story forwards easily. The mystery of Roanoke Island is unravelled slowly through the book and the reader stands as much of a chance at guessing the truth behind it all as the characters do. What I particularly liked about the story was that Bond did not shy away from the supernatural elements of the story: she did not try to rationalise what happened, to root it in a logical explanation where magic had no place. Instead, she runs with it and keeps the pace of both the story and the supernatural happening going at a quick, efficient pace.
As with most Strange Chemistry books, Blackwood isn’t your average YA book, with your average YA main characters. The lead of the story might be female but Miranda isn’t the usual girly girl going all week at the knees in front of her male sidekick, and although the romance in between her and Philips is an inherent part of the story, Bond handles it with a deft, realistic hand. Miranda might like Philips, but that doesn’t mean she is about to let her emotions rule her life. As for Philips, he isn’t the typical macho boy that some stories outside the YA genre like to portray: behind the bad boy façade, Philips has a heart of gold and will do anything to protect Miranda, whether she is asking for his help or not.
Blackwood was a good urban fantasy book that knew how to mix romance and adventure in the perfect way. The pace is good and maintained throughout the book and leads to do a satisfying end of the story (although I felt as though it was a little lacklustre compared to the rest of the book…). All in all, Blackwood is more than worth a read!