by Gwenda Bond
Published on August 1, 2017 by Switch Press
Genres: Mystery, Paranormal, Young Adult
Gwenda Bond's first book Blackwood has been reimagined and brought back to life with new vision. On Roanoke Island, the legend of the Lost Colony—and the 114 colonists who vanished without a trace more than four hundred years ago—still haunts the town. But that’s just a story told for the tourists.
When 114 people suddenly disappear from the island in present day, it seems history is repeating itself—and an unlikely pair of seventeen-year-olds might be the only hope of bringing the missing back. Miranda Blackwood, a member of one of island’s most infamous families, and Grant Rawling, the sherrif’s son, who has demons and secrets of his own, find themselves at the center of the mystery.
As the unlikely pair works to uncover the secrets of the new Lost Colony, they must dodge everyone from the authorities to long-dead alchemists as they race against time to save their family and friends before they too are gone for good.
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I have mixed feelings about Bond’s work. My previous experiences with it had me loving one book (Girl on a Wire) and disliking the next (Girl in the Shadows) so I wasn’t sure what to expect from Strange Alchemy, especially as it’s listed as a revised version of her first book.
I’ll say this for it: this book is certainly different from the usual YAs I’ve read. I liked that it included paranormal elements without falling into the cliches I see in a lot of urban fantasies. The lost colony of Roanoke is a part of history that I never learned a lot about beyond mentions in history class but I found myself looking more into it after starting this book. This brings the legend into the modern day with another population disappearing, curses, and all sorts of mystery abounding.
The writing wasn’t as clean as the other books I’ve read by her but the story was fairly interesting. Though I’m not big on thrillers and I wouldn’t necessarily classify this book as such, there was a feel to it that gave me horror movie vibes at times as the tension continued to build. And then… I’m not sure what happened. The pace slowed as details were flung out left and right, breaking down a lot of that previous tension and causing me to lose interest.
There were also a few questions I had throughout the story that were never really addressed and that took away from the experience. I really am not a fan of stories that leave me with too many questions and not enough answers (side-eyes the ReMade serial…).
Miranda and Grant were alright protagonists. Miranda’s tough (and cursed) while Grant as some interesting abilities, but neither jumped off the page for me. I felt like they served more for the plot’s purpose, that it was the primary driver, than the characters. Which is fine. I tend to find I enjoy character-driven stories more, personally, and didn’t really feel much for either of these two, but it wasn’t badly done. Though the little romance subplot wasn’t working for me.
Strange Alchemy had a little bit of everything in it and I both liked and disliked that. There’s a decent amount going on and, at times, I had to backtrack because I thought I missed something (and sometimes there was nothing to miss and the plot just lacked the details to support a particular point).
If you don’t mind having a few questions at the end of a novel, and enjoy an interesting take on a historical mystery brought into a new light, then I’d recommend Strange Alchemy to you. It was missing a few things for me but was, overall, an interesting read.