I received this book for free from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
Published by Random House Children's Books on April 10, 2012
Genres: Contemporary YA, Thriller, Young Adult
Source: the publisher via NetGalley
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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.
I know that Robin Wasserman’s THE BOOK OF BLOOD AND SHADOW is being compared to THE DAVINCI CODE, guys, so I can imagine that, for some people, this isn’t the best sell in the whole world. For me, though, hearing that comparison completely piqued my interest. Because I pretty much devoured THE DAVINCI CODE when it came out. I’m FASCINATED by books that feature religious shenanigans. I’m not talking about religious themes or those kinds of things. I’m talking about ancient/old religious mysteries or creepy societies that existed on the underbelly of organized religions. I’m talking about the old-school crazies, guys. The ones who were guarding some kind of secret of the universe, or were searching or the answer to some eternal question. And what do you know? THE BOOK OF BLOOD AND SHADOW has both!
There are not too many more gripping beginnings to a book than the main character describing herself sitting in a pool of her murdered friend’s blood. But that’s exactly how Robin Wasserman begins THE BOOK OF BLOOD AND SHADOW, with Nora sitting next to Chris’s dead body next to her friend, Adriane, and for the most part, the pace doesn’t let up from there. There’s a decent-sized exception to that statement, and we’ll get to it in a sec. But for the most part, the pace of the main storyline moves at a GREAT clip, and the mystery/conspiracy/action aspect is AWESOME, especially when the action moves to Prague, where the bulk of the story takes place.
The exception I was talking about involves…well, let’s back up real quick. So Nora is still in high school with her friend Adriane, who is dating Nora’s bff, Chris. Chris attends the college in town, and the three of them plus Chris’s roommate, Max, are helping and old, crazy professor research something called the Voynich manuscript, a coded work rumored for centuries to contain clues on lots of mystical, alchemical, religious mysteries related to something called the Lumen Dei. Nora’s contribution involves translating the letters of a young girl named Elizabeth Weston who lived in Prague at the time when all this Lumen Dei business was going down in real time. Elizabeth and her letters wind up being HUGE to the story in THE BOOK OF BLOOD AND SHADOW, and they lead Nora and co. to Prague. BUT. The letters also tripped up the pace of my own reading more than once. In the beginning there was a translated letter ever few pages, which made it hard for me to get into the beginning, and towards the end, when her letters got SUPER LONG, they often took away from my enjoyment of the main storyline, which was by then TRUCKING.
But really, the letters, while important, are not the bulk of the story in THE BOOK OF BLOOD AND SHADOW. Nora and Adriane go to Prague to look for Max, suspect numero uno in Chris’s murder. (Side note: Chris was THE BOMB and I’m devastated that he was really dead. It wasn’t like some fake-out death or anything else nuts. He was the only light-hearted aspect of the book, so I missed him for that and for his BOMB-ness.) Nora was a great character. Smart, plucky, determined, good sense of humor, but not without her weaknesses, namely her boyfriend, Max, who she steadfastly believes is innocent. I, however, was not always so sure of him. Max was quiet and intense and oversensitive about not super-important things. That always sets off my BAD GUY alarms. But there’s lots of complexities about their relationship that keep the story barreling forward and always teetering on the edge of something dangerous. NO ONE in Robin Wasserman’s book is who they originally seem, which is AWESOME.
THE BOOK OF BLOOD AND SHADOW moves nonstop, pretty much, guys, and there’s twists and secrets and BANANAS things happening all the time. In Prague, Nora meets a guy named Eli and he is mysterious times infinity, and also a little smoldery (there’s not a TON of sexytimes here, guys, but there’s kissing!). Max has twisty secrets, Adriane has twisty secrets, even Nora has some twisty secrets. Between the relationships, the murders, the secrets and lies, the conspiracies, the danger, and this whole sense of REALLY old dangers facing our characters at every turn, THE BOOK OF BLOOD AND SHADOW by Robin Wasserman is chock full of great stuff. Occasionally things dragged just a touch, particularly with Elizabeth’s letters, but that was really the only thing I can gripe about with any legitimacy. The ending was BOSS, and the whole story just pushed a BUNCH of my inner secret society/religious scandal nerd buttons. Really enjoyed this one, guys.