Review of Welcome to Blackwood

Published by Hawkeye Books Australia

I read Welcome to Blackwood in a day because I found it very hard to put down. The humour, especially in the dialogue, crackles along and the writing is confident and assured.

More than that, Khaiah Thomson has created a fascinating parallel world where most people are Mundane (I’m guessing they don’t call themselves that) but a minority are Supernatural. Mundanes know about Supers but don’t necessarily approve of them. Supernaturals have a number of sub-groups, the most common of which is Shapeshifting.

Enter Freya, the funny, feisty 17 year old narrator of the story. Her Mum and brother are Wolfshifters (friendly Werewolf types who don’t need to hunt). Freya has a much rarer talent, inherited from her Dad. Her abilities are extremely unpopular with Mundanes and Supers alike – and can prove deadly.

Freya is not yet fully in control of her powers, which leads to a nasty incident in the mainstream Mundane world. She and her family escape to Blackwood, her Mum’s home town, where she can start afresh pretending to be a Mundane … but Blackwood isn’t as idyllic as it seems. And in any case, trouble seems to follow Freya …

The plot fizzes along – finding out about the Supernaturals way of life is fascinating, then there’s an arrogant but wildly attractive Wolfshifter for Freya to contend with, tensions between the different Super factions in Blackwood and the mystery of her father’s death to solve. On top of all that, Freya needs to come to terms with what she is and work out who she can trust.

Whilst there are some classic elements to the story you may have come across before (a teenager looking to find her place in the world; the tension of a star-crossed romance; supernatural characters) they are given a fresh twist so you have the joy of familiarity but in a whole new context.

All in all a very satisfying read that kept me on my toes throughout. I am looking forward to the sequel and another visit to Blackwood.

The case of the disappearing cat

We pay a lot for our home security. We have designated list of key holders and a control room that phones them when the alarm goes off. They even send the police round, in certain circumstances.

I’m not entirely sure how the call to the police gets triggered because the control room seem to give up once they’ve tried to contact the people on the list.

I know this because we have cats.

We have three black cats. Amelia, Rhubarb and Custard. It was a kind of buy-two-get-one-free from the cat shelter. They cleverly left Amelia alone in a room saying she was the last of the litter and very (sob) lonely. The two brothers that I favoured had to go together, and as I’d stupidly brought my daughter, who of course wanted a girl cat, we ended up with all of them. The cat shelter people couldn’t believe their luck.

I renamed the brothers once we got home. My children (at that point aged seven and five) had a shocking lack of imagination when it came to naming things. It’s a child thing, I think. I was the same. I had several non-ironic Hammy the hamsters; a cat called Badger because it was black and white; a budgie called Joey and a goldfish called (wait for it) Goldie. I did have a cat called Twinkle, which had a little star on it’s forehead but that was named after my favourite weekly magazine. So much for creative spark.

Technically we were getting cats for the children. That was the cover story. Theoretically it was their job to pick names. But I had Views. One of the brothers is a timid creature. I wanted to call him Custard after the dragon in the Ogden Nash story ( if you don’t know it then read it immediately:

For a connoisseur of 1970’s sweets, Rhubarb was the obvious and only name for his sibling. I used a bag of them to bribe my son into accepting the new names. I am still smug every time people give a little snort of laughter when they find out. The non-bribable girl child kept the name the shelter gave the girl kitten, whilst still managing to wangle some of the sweets. It rankles even now. How are people going to know about my excellent wit and wordplay when I have a cat called Amelia? Children spoil everything.

With unerring ability one cat goes missing every time we want to go away. We search the rooms thoroughly. We locate two of them. We weigh the odds. Custard hardly ever comes into the main house now except for the cat room. The cat room is a small utility room, non-alarmed, with a cat flap, so we can leave food when we go away and know they are not reduced to sheltering in hedges or (worse) finding better homes with kind neighbours. Custard has gone outside to snooze in a bush, we invariably conclude, as we set the alarm and lock up. Bless his heart.

The call usually comes just after I’ve dozed off. The neighbours, up late this time thank god, not trying to sleep, wonder if we know our alarm’s going off. They can’t see any sign of nefarious activity but … I contact the key holder who arrives, a little bleary given the hour, to check thoroughly. We’ve all missed the calls from the security people.

No sign of burglars. Or of the bloody cat, though movement has been detected in three of five possible zones in the house. No sign of the police, either, even though the call centre has failed to speak to us or the key holder. Given they charge a fee after three false alarms this is probably a blessing: I’m not sure ‘sorry officer, it was our cat’ will cut it at 11.30pm, not even if I offer up a Mrs Slocum style aside about my naughty pussy.

In the end, on the very first night away, our expensive home security is left deactivated and the door to the cat room left open. This way we won’t come home to find the desiccated remains of a cat pawing pathetically at the door to be let out. We may well also not have a TV.

It does exponentially increase the likelihood of coming home to the desiccated remains of some small mammals though. They seem particularly fond of leaving whole shrews on the carpet. Or the stomachs of blue tits, which for some reason are spurned as indigestible.

General internet theory suggests these are love gifts, but I’m not so sure. We’ve had eight years together, my views on these things are fairly clear, I’d say.

It’s more like dumb insolence.

The final straw

The door slammed behind Stephen. Stella stared at it, unable to believe the row they’d just had; how unreasonable he was. Then, like every other time, she started imagining ways he might die.

He might be run over by a car. She could hear the screech of brakes, the knock on the door; see the serious faces of the two PCs sent to tell her the news.

‘A tragic accident,’ the tall, blonde one would say, sitting uncomfortably on the chair in the living room, whilst his sidekick, the small, dark one, rattled around in the kitchen, looking for things to make her a cup of tea for the shock. ‘A speeding vehicle on a quiet residential road like this, it’s 1000-1 chance. Hit and run, no trace of the car.’

Perhaps it would be a mugging gone wrong. Stephen would never hand over his wallet willingly. Two men in black, one of them drawing out a knife at the last minute before escaping into the shadows, Stephen a crumpled heap in a pool of blood. She’d rush to the police corden; they’d have to stop her from embracing to his cold, lifeless body.

‘What a brave woman,’ the blonde PC would say afterwards in the police canteen. ‘What a shock.’ The small, dark one would agree, of course. They would come to the funeral to pay their respects.

Someone could push him from a crowded commuter platform. The handsome uniformed duo would scour hours of CCTV, sharing pizza and coffee, but they’d never work out who did it. Stephen would be just one more fatal statistic on the six o’clock news.

Or perhaps, and this was one Stella thought about a lot, Stephen might be the mistaken victim of a gang of kidnappers. He was good looking enough, it wasn’t out of the question he might be mistaken for some YouTube star and bundled into the back of a white van. She’d appear on TV, hair tied back in a severe yet flattering bun, holding her emotions together as she appealed for witnesses.

‘She’s under so much pressure,’ said Blondie, ‘yet she never cracks.’ Sidekick nodded somberly. They hadn’t slept for days, but they couldn’t walk away from the case, let her down.

Of course, she couldn’t pay the money. A drunken tramp would trip over Stephen’s dismembered torso by the canal. She’d be left a grieving widow, putting flowers on his grave in the drizzle of a cold November afternoon.

Danger lurked everywhere. At home, tripping onto a sharp knife left the wrong way up in the open dishwasher. Some kind of electric shock, though Stella’s imagination got a bit hazy at this point: she was sure there was something about radios and baths. Or carbon monoxide, that was a thing too. She’d have to Google how that happened.

A sharp rap at the door broke her reverie. This is it, she thought, this is how it begins. Another rap, more urgent this time.

‘What is it?’

‘Let me out. ’ He sounded very angry.

‘I can’t, my love,’ she leant in closer to the bedroom door. It had taken two workmen a whole afternoon to replace the original with a steel reinforced one. It matched the oak cladding of the others in the house perfectly. The men had been very sympathetic when she’d explained how insecure she felt when her husband was away. They’d even put the lock on for her which wasn’t strictly their job.

‘You see, Stephen, as I was trying to say,’ Stella gripped the key in her pocket, ‘it’s just not safe out there.’