Robin Wasserman’s The Book of Blood and Shadow is such a fantastic, intelligent book! It’s fast-paced, bookish, dark, and dangerous at times. Nearly all of the reviews I’ve read have said that this is YA’s answer to Dan Brown, and they’re right. Things are not as they seem, enemies lurk behind every shadow, and a world-changing artifact lies hidden somewhere in Prague. People will kill for it. People have killed for it–and they won’t stop until their goal is complete.
It was like a nightmare, but there was no waking up.
When the night began, Nora had two best friends and a boyfriend she adored. When it ended, she had nothing but blood on her hands. Chris was dead. Adriane couldn’t speak. 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’s determined to follow the trail of blood, no matter where it leads. But Chris’s murder 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.
Essentially, Nora and her best friend Chris, along with his roommate Max, work for a professor whose life goal is the translation of a cryptic text which will supposedly allow the worthy reader to talk to God. They are set with the task of translating documents which might aid in the ultimate translation of the text, but it seems that this is no mere boring desk job. Their journey is fraught with danger: murder, torture, supernatural urban legends.
This is a multilayered book, and I enjoyed it thoroughly. The first lines grabbed me and really never let go. It begins with a murder, though through a slightly non-chronological narrative Wasserman maintains suspense well. She leads with a shocking revelation and then brings in the characters so that the reader becomes warily attached to them. There is a further non-chronological element, as much of the essential clues to the mystery come from centuries-old letters which tell a tale of warning for Nora and her friends who seek a similar treasure.
Nora is not your typical YA heroine. A love story is present, yet subdued and not distracting. It becomes a real plot point beyond finding a source of a happily-ever-ever. There are some laugh-out-loud moments to alleviate the dark tension which often pervades the book, and the constant questioning of loyalties keeps the mystery alive and complex.
There are a few small problems I have with it, but they’re absolutely minor, and maybe I’m being nitpicky. They mainly deal with characterization. I think that Nora is a bit too sure of herself, for someone so unceremoniously thrust into such a unique, dangerous situation. She’s almost too confident at times. For such an introverted person who relies on the constancy of her Latin translations to make sense of the world, Nora too readily steps into the dangers of the outside world, flying in the face of the horrific nature of the villains.
Wasserman takes pains to keep us guessing as to the identity of the murderer, as well as to who is on Nora’s side and who might be a turncoat. In some cases this worked, yet at times it seemed too clear. Spoilers hidden, highlight them to read:Max is SO obviously the bad guy, and Eli is clearly not, but there is a bit too much protesting on either side. Instead of there being hints at who might be a villain, there are full-blown arguments about it. Too much evidence is given, and the conclusion seems to obvious for me..
That being said, it was only in some bits of the characterization that I found problems. The plot was great, the mystery was delightfully tantalizing, and it’s absolutely worth reading. I would like to see more of this from YA authors in the future.