The Blackhope Enigma by Teresa Flavin – Review

Book Jacket:

For centuries, Blackhope Tower has been shrouded in intrigue, centering on a labyrinth and painting in the Mariner’s Chamber. When fourteen-year-old Sunni Forrest visits the tower and sees her stepbrother, Dean, disappear, seemingly into the painting itself, she must find him and risk being drawn into the heart of the Blackhope enigma. This action-packed debut follows Dean, Sunni, and her friend Blaise on a journey to the heart of an age-old mystery.

You can read an excerpt here.


The Blackhope Enigma is a roller coaster ride of a book – a Renaissance version of the stuck-in-a-video-game paradigm – but despite its bountiful action and imaginative setting, all in all this story felt hollow and aimless to me. 

My dissatisfaction with this book really all boils down to the lack of character work. The Blackhope Enigma is unabashedly an MG romp – and I’m very partial to MG romps in general, so it’s not like I came to this story expecting anything else – but in this case, the helter skelter plot entirely drowns out the characters. Sunni, Dean and Blaise start off sympathetic enough, as young children lost in a fantastical world who just want to find their way home, but that’s it – that’s all we get. They’re likable enough archetypes but there’s no real substance to any of them, and that lack of personality made it impossible for me to truly care about them. At most I vaguely liked them, and it wasn’t enough – with this type of story, where the narrative is leaping every which way like a slippery fish, a main character to root for is vital. You NEED it to anchor the story, and in this case, it just wasn’t there. 

Still, the idea behind this book – a magical painting created as a kind of amusement park for an adventuresome Lord – is undeniably fun. It’s a fantastic take on the fall-in-a-painting paradigm (questionable logic aside), and the many worlds within the painting that Sunni and Dean have to navigate definitely have that Alice in Wonderland quality of bizarre fun. There are labyrinths and magical creatures and pirates ships and whirlpools and a very dastardly Evil Villain hot on our heroes’ heels (though said Villain takes hostages with somewhat painful regularity). With the ever changing landscapes and inventive albeit random perils, there certainly was never a dull moment in this book. I particularly enjoyed the opening sequence, where Sunni and Dean find themselves in a frozen painted landscape filled with creepy, motionless dummies – but sadly as this story carried on, I found myself gradually caring less and less about the outcome. There just was no heart to it all. Not to mention the plot was rather contrived, and the one-note behavior of everyone in the entire book got tiresome. It all just wore a bit thin before I was even halfway through the book, and then the ending was so ridiculously convenient as to be slightly ludicrous – but never fear, the ending is indeed a happy one.

In the end, The Blackhope Enigma is undeniably a whirlwind of imagination and action-packed adventure, and I have no doubt that this story will keep many a young reader entertained – but for me, I just need more than this.

Byrt Grade: B / B-

As Levar Burton used to say – you don’t have to take my word for it…

Kirkus Reviews says:

Video games and themes parks are no match for the world Il Corvo created…The plot, like a labyrinth, is full of unexpected twists, and there are threats to be faced at every turn.

Bart’s Bookshelf says:

The Blackhope Enigma, whilst it takes place in a different and unusual location, is at heart, still a pretty traditional adventure story, with a budding friendship/relationship between the 2 main characters, secrets, bad guys, plot twists aplenty. The concept of the story taking place within a painting, is nicely done throughout, with light nudges and reminders of  just where we were. It didn’t quite blow me away, but The Blackhope Enigma was a really enjoyable and engaging read…

Reading in the Corner says:

The book has its share of predictable and slightly cheesy situations, but they don’t interrupt the flow of the story or detract from its overall telling. Teresa Flavin has crafted a fun story that many readers will enjoy.