April 9, 2012 by Heidi
Title: The Book of Blood and Shadow [Amazon|GoodReads]
Author: Robin Wasserman [Website|Twitter|Facebook]
Standing: Stand alone novel.
Genre: Young/New Adult, Mystery
Published: April 10th, 2012 by Random House Children’s Books
Format: Kindle edition; 448 pages.
Source: ARC from publisher received via NetGalley.
It was like a nightmare, but there was no waking up. When the night began, Nora had two best friends and an embarrassingly storybook one true love. When it ended, she had nothing but blood on her hands and an echoing scream that stopped only when the tranquilizers pierced her veins and left her in the merciful dark.
But the next morning, it was all still true: Chris was dead. His girlfriend Adriane, Nora’s best friend, was catatonic. And Max, Nora’s sweet, smart, soft-spoken Prince Charming, was gone. He was also—according to the police, according to her parents, according to everyone—a murderer.
Desperate to prove his innocence, Nora follows the trail of blood, no matter where it leads. It ultimately brings her to the ancient streets of Prague, where she is drawn into a dark web of secret societies and shadowy conspirators, all driven by a mad desire to possess something that might not even exist. For buried in a centuries-old manuscript is the secret to ultimate knowledge and communion with the divine; it is said that he who controls the Lumen Dei controls the world. Unbeknownst to her, Nora now holds the crucial key to unlocking its secrets. Her night of blood is just one piece in a puzzle that spans continents and centuries. Solving it may be the only way she can save her own life.
The Book of Blood and Shadow was, for me, one of those reads that is almost but not quite right. I enjoyed it as a read, but found myself far from blown away with a story that was more tepid than bone chilling. The story starts with the gruesome murder of Nora’s best friend, Chris, but then backtracks to that fall in order to give us a greater scope on the scene. Nora, Chris, and Chris’s freshman roommate, Max, are hired on as research assistants for a local scholar of old manuscripts, where they are set to translating from Latin. Chris and Max are given the more prestigious task of attempting to translate and decode a manuscript that has been of interest to conspirators for centuries, while Nora is relegated to translating a pile of letters. Nora, though put out by the belief that she has been assigned this ‘lesser’ task by virtue of being a high schooler or a girl, soon finds herself enraptured by the letter writer, Elizabeth’s, story. Nora feels a certain kinship and understanding between herself and Elizabeth, feeling the need to keep her most private correspondence private, and understanding her words with more ease and depth over time.
While all of the characters were well-written, I found myself unable to connect with any of them or feel truly invested in their futures. Chris, undoubtedly the most likable character, is announced dead before the story even gets going. Nora’s relationship to Chris, and to Elizabeth, were the only relationships I really felt in the book. Her romance with Max seemed very lukewarm to me, and as such I couldn’t really grasp her devotion and faith in him (I’ll admit it, I’m prejudice against boys who recite poetry to come across as ‘smart’ or ‘romantic’, to me it just reads lame). Nora’s relationship with Adriane also seemed rather mild, but I did enjoy having Adriane around as she was the only character that seemed to bring any humor to the book. I suppose in the end, I would have to state that The Book of Blood and Shadow, as a mystery, seeks to be both plot and character driven, but is lacking somewhat on both accounts.
The writing in The Book of Blood and Shadow is nearly poetic, a story that seems like it should be adrenaline filled is instead more quiet and subtle. The mystery to be solved presents a fun and engrossing trail throughout the book, with various twists and turns to uncover. I did, however, question the plausibility of the mystery itself. The information uncovered from Elizabeth’s letters didn’t really seem that difficult to figure out. I suppose the best reasoning one can come up with for previous scholars not having uncovered it is the supposed unimportance of Elizabeth’s letters. This didn’t really line up for me though, given events and beliefs exposed later in the story.
The setting of Prague always lends and air of mystery and intrigue to any story, and The Book of Blood and Shadow is no exception. I found myself craving more detail of the city, like those we received in Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone, but as the character in that book lived in Prague, while the characters in this one are only visiting, it seems fair that we don’t get quite the same feel for the city.
The Book of Blood and Shadow, despite its faults, is a book worth reading for those who enjoy uncovering age-old mysteries. I very much enjoyed that while this was a contemporary mystery, it had many elements of historical fiction in play. The mystery, those involved, and even the city of Prague lended the perfect elements of a good historical fiction, while at the same time having the conveniences of a contemporary novel. This book will appeal to those who enjoy conspiracies, and secret societies; with a more subtle Indiana Jones and the Arc of the Covenant feel, The Book of Blood and Shadow was intriguing and fun. I will say that this book presented three very different but interesting views on faith and God, all of which presented a possible extreme; I do think that my inability to align with any of these extremes is part of the reason I felt disconnected from the story.
Likelihood that I’ll be back for more: I do still want to read Robin Wasserman’s Skinned series, but I won’t be prioritizing it based on my experience with The Book of Blood and Shadow.
Recommended for: Fans of Indiana Jones and the Arc of the Covenant, Foucault’s Pendulum by Umberto Eco, or The Divinci Code by Dan Brown. Basically those who enjoy mystery and adventure with religious themes.
Get a second opinion:
Book Labyrinth (Guest review by Ashley’s mom)