When the Strange Chemistry imprint was announced, I started following its developments with interest. One of the reasons being that Amanda’s had been a blog I read fondly. Another that the imprint dedicates itself to science fiction and fantasy YA.
Blackwood is one of the first titles released by the imprint. And with that stunning cover, and the interesting plot summary, my expectations ran high.
In Blackwood, the history of Roanoke Island where 114 people disappeared from the Lost Colony hundreds of years ago, appears to be repeating itself. Miranda, a misfit girl whose family has always been called cursed by fellow inhabitants of the island, is helping out with a celebratory play to remember the disappearances of centuries past when she sees a mysterious ship arriving through the air. Except, no one else seems to have seen what she has seen. The next day, however, over a hundred people have disappeared from the island. Philips, a boy who was driven away from his home because of his ability to hear voices from the dead, returns home to help solve the mystery. Together, Miranda and Philips try to make sense of the disappearances, while trying to come to terms with their family lives and themselves, and dodging FBI agents in the process.
Sounds interesting, right? And I have to say that the overall plot, in itself, was interesting. Unfortunately, there were things in its execution that disrupted my enjoyment from time to time, and led me to feel, as Bart mentions in his review, that “it didn’t ‘flow’ quite right for me.”
Miranda and Philips are interesting characters. Miranda is a quirky and often misunderstood girl, who is nevertheless strong and fights to make a life for herself. Plus, she is geeky and owns DVDs of the Vampire Diaries [yes, this counts as a plus in my book]. Philips is a misfit in his own way, a popular boy but disturbed by his hearing voices. Even though their characters feel a little bit like tropes that can often be found in YA fiction -misunderstood but secretly beautiful girl meets popular boy carrying a secret- this did not bother me much.
While Miranda and Philips are interesting in and of themselves, it was the way they meshed together that didn’t really work for me. They suffer from a severe case of insta-love. Up to the point that while Philips hurt Miranda in the past, when he arrives back home he ditches his mother at the airport because he just had to see her. This confused me to no end for pages after I read this scene because I was puzzled if I had missed a big reveal why he felt he must do this. But I hadn’t. One could say it was revealed why he felt Miranda played a role in this mystery, but the ditching your mother at the airport stuff? I’m still not convinced. There are also the times when their unexplained draw to each other is inserted in scenes where moments before something of a magnitude happens that made me feel that these were not the times to contemplate the potential of kissing a boy you might like.
But more than this insta-love trope that did not feel natural, it was the language that felt a little clunky around some of their interactions. Dialogue that didn’t always flow, jokes that at times were more awkward than funny, etcetera. It made me feel that Miranda and Philips, as much as I liked them, as much as I even felt that they would be cute together, just didn’t work out during the story. Or not to their full potential anyway.
I don’t know, really. There were a lot of things to enjoy about Blackwood. I for one had not seen the suggested take on the Roanoke mystery coming, and there were quite a few surprising turns at the end of the story that made me enjoy it more. And yet, I cannot help but be left with the feeling that it has not fully realised its potential. The potential for a great story was certainly there, but it never really came out. Therefore, disappointment overruled most of the other feelings I might have had about the book.