Review: Blythewood by Carol Goodman

I received this book for free from Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: Blythewood by Carol GoodmanBlythewood by Carol Goodman
Series: Blythewood #1
Published by Speak on October 21, 2014
Genres: Gothic, Historical, Romance, Urban Fantasy
Pages: 512
Format: Paperback
Source: Publisher
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After narrowly escaping death in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire, seventeen-year-old Avaline Hall is sent to Blythewood Academy, the elite girls’ boarding school in New York’s Hudson Valley that her mother attended years before. Ava hopes to solve the mystery of her mother’s death and its connection to the students who keep disappearing from Blythewood. But the school is not all that it appears . . . and neither is the handsome young man who saved Ava from the fire. What’s the meaning of the extraordinary powers Ava possesses? Who’s good and who’s evil? And who has the right to make that distinction?

Embarking on Blythewood, I was hesitant. I read the first few pages on Amazon preview before I accepted the review copy, mostly because of an ambivalence to paranormal stories, particularly those about angels. I really liked the writing and the sample and decided it was worth a try. I should probably make use of this sampling technique more often, since I often DNF within the first twenty pages. My instincts on Blythewood were correct: the writing is beautiful, the world building compelling, and it was indeed worth my time.

Carol Goodman, Goodreads informs me, has written adult fiction with much success for years. Blythewood is her debut young adult novel. Though I’ve not read any of her adult novels, I suspect that the writing is similar. Personally, I think it’s beautiful. However, Blythewood‘s got a slower, more measured pace than most young adult novels. I suspect Blythewood will have the most appeal for YA readers who also enjoy adult fiction and aren’t as driven by action and quick pacing. I realize it sounds like I’m saying this is a flaw, but I honestly don’t think it is; I just want you guys to know what to expect.

The setting of Blythewood delighted me. Set in the 1910s, Goodman blends history with the paranormal. There are paranormal explanations for big events of the time and I just love the way that she did that. The history nerd in me was overjoyed at these moments when the historical elements came to the surface. On top of the actual events, there’s some great stuff about votes for women and unions. Plus, there’s a brief foray into Bellevue.

Added to the historical elements is a complex and fascinating fantasy world. There’s a lot going on in the world building, but I think it all comes together pretty well. At the end, I was still left with some questions, but it feels like Goodman has a plan. There are a bunch of creatures, most of whom I’ve met before in lore and some which I have not. It took me a while to stop rolling my eyes at the Darklings, because, hey, you’re supposed to be singular and in Leigh Bardugo’s novels, but I came around.

What I like best about Goodman’s world is that it’s not black and white. Initially, it appears like there’s good and evil, as taught at Blythewood, the boarding school Ava goes to where girls are taught to fight faerie creatures. Ultimately, nobody’s really entirely evil, at least not always. I like that the villains have pasts and motivations, and the parallels between racism and the treatment of the faerie creatures are strong. The struggles inside Blythewood, though fantastical in nature, mirror the struggles taking place outside in ordinary human lives.

The characters are not perhaps the most lively and lifelike, but I do think they’re interesting. I’m not emotionally attached, but I’m enjoying their arcs thus far. Much like the creatures, the humans initially seem easy to categorize, but Ava keeps learning that there’s much more to her classmates and teachers. Sometimes I’m ready to dismiss someone and write them off as one thing and then they would develop in new unexpected ways. For this reason, I have hope that I’ll come to care for these characters along their journey.

The weakest part of Blythewood by far is the romance, which follows the traditional paranormal romance tropes. If those work for you, then obviously the romance here will, but they don’t work for me. Ava is entranced by visions of the boy who saved her from the Triangle Shirt Waist fire. He’s compelling and magical. They instalove all over each other. Though they don’t actually declare their feelings, there’s a bit of world building that explains that they two are in love. On the plus side, though, there’s not really that much time spent on the romance, so it wasn’t a huge detraction.

I’ve got Ravencliffe coming up next on my reading list and I’m looking forward to more of Ava’s journey. There’s a lot more that I want to know. I only hope that Goodman can convince me to care about this romance in the next book.

Favorite Quote:

“I don’t need anyone to defend me, sir. But if you are ever in a scrape, don’t hesitate to call on me!”

Tl;dr – Review in a GIFfy:

gif don't be defeatist downton abbey
The class divide’s a big theme, and I would totally cast Maggie Smith as one of the teachers.

4 responses to “Review: Blythewood by Carol Goodman”

  1. I’ve been curious about Blythewood for awhile now. I didn’t know the author also wrote adult fiction. I’m glad that you liked this, even though you weren’t madly in love.
    Quinn @ Quinn’s Book Nook recently posted…Top Ten New-To-Me Authors I Read In 2014My Profile

    • Christina Franke says:

      I’m reading book two now and it added an LGBT element, so I’m feeling even better about this series. 🙂

  2. This definitely sounds worth a try! I love that there are strong historical elements (didn’t realize that) and I’m a lot pickier with paranormal books these days so I feel like I can handle the tropes better. I’m also a big fan of characters with shades of gray, so much more interesting that way! Loved the review, hope you enjoy the sequel 🙂

    • Christina Franke says:

      For some reason, I thought this was a paranormal in modern times. The historical setting made everything better. Plus, instalove fits way better in the past, when people didn’t have the option of getting to know someone. They just sort of grabbed on to the person who was better than whoever they’re going to be forced to wed.

      I did enjoy the sequel, even more. 🙂

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