Genre: YA Fantasy
Release Date: 17 February 2020 (pre-orders available now)
Welcome to Blackbirch. It’s a place no one forgets. Except for Josh Taylor.
The fatal car crash took more than 17-year-old Josh’s parents. It stole his memories and returned him to his birthplace, Blackbirch, a tourist town steeped in a history of witchcraft.
Amongst friends he’s forgotten and a life he doesn’t want, Josh is haunted by nightmares so believable he swears the girl in his dreams is real. Kallie is so captivating he ignores her blood-stained hands, but he can’t overlook the blue glow summoned to her skin.
Kallie says it’s an ancient magic they share and a secret worth hiding, because as Josh discovers, they aren’t the only gifted ones.
To restore his memories and find the true cause of the car accident, he must learn what’s real. And what secrets Blackbirch has buried in its woods.
From the very first page, this novel established a genuinely creepy and mysterious vibe that never let up, ramping to a climax that was action-packed and satisfying, and at the same time left me wanting more of these characters. Fortunately, there are several books to come in the Blackbirch series.
I think the first thing that captured me was the magic system, which is fascinating and diverse, with deep roots in the past and the place, and also in Josh’s own personal history.
The second factor I really loved was the mystery. Or rather, mysteries, because there are quite a few: Why can’t Josh remember his past? What has he forgotten? Who is Kallie and what are her motives? What’s really going on in the woods? Who is the scarred man? These and other questions kept me reading. Some answers are given by the end of the story, others are only hinted at in this opening novel.
Finally, the town of Blackbirch itself, with its woods and its trees (and yes, I googled black birches and wintergreen oil and disappeared down that rabbit hole for a while) is almost another character in the novel. The black birches are everywhere, casting their ominous influence over every page.
So why four stars instead of five? Honestly, it’s mostly just personal preference. I would have liked the writing to be a little smoother. It’s not bad, just not my favourite style. I also found Josh hard to connect to at first, although as he’s lost his memory, this is understandable. But he’s a moody teenager, and this grumpy older woman has less patience for that than she used to. Finally, the character of Josh’s friend Sarah seems a bit bland. But these are minor quibbles, nothing that spoiled my enjoyment or made me want to stop reading. And I loved the climax.
Blackbirch: The Beginning (clever title, by the way, and you won’t see how clever until you read the book for yourself) is a great story, a really exciting debut from K.M. Allan. And I have a strong feeling that now that everything has been set up so well, Book Two will be even better.
(Thank you to K.M Allan for sending an ARC to me in exchange for an honest review)