Title: The Book of Blood and Shadow
Author: Robin Wasserman
Published April 10th 2012 by Random House Children’s Books
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.
It was impossible for me to resist the lure of Robin Wasserman’s The Book of Blood and Shadow once I read reviews that likened it to a YA (and better) version of The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown. Quite honestly, I loved Dan Brown’s novels when I last read them. Would I feel the same if I read them today? Who knows? But I did love The Book of Blood and Shadow.
The parallels are easy to draw; a murder involving secret societies takes the main character across the sea to solve and necessitates the knowledge of certain academia to solve.
Beside plot minutiae, there is a huge difference between the two. Not to sound pretentious, but while The Da Vinci Code is rather plot driven, The Book of Blood and Shadow is driven a great deal by the actions and motivations of the main character, Nora. The impetus for Nora’s movements are solid and real and make sense given what she knows and what she’s lost.
Excepting a painfully sad flash-forward narrating prologue (which didn’t bother me as much as it usually does, surprisingly), the beginning of The Book and Blood and Shadow is rather light. We’re not yet encumbered with a dangerous mystery that results in bloodshed. Nora has two wonderful best friends and an interesting work study position. She’s in love.
She’s even beginning to feel a kinship with the woman who wrote the supposedly unimportant letters she was assigned to read for her work study. And why not? The similarities of their lives are impossible to miss, despite the centuries separating them.
It’s all so perfect… until little things start to go wrong. Wasserman masterfully builds smaller moments of tension. That is, until we arrive back at that opening moment when we know there’s been a death and Wasserman delivers a wallop in the form of a murder.
That’s when the adventure really begins.
Many novels that take us overseas get the label of a “romp.” Not so with The Book of Blood and Shadow. The foreign backdrop reinforces the mystery. Our characters are in an unfamiliar place stuck in a situation that they don’t truly understand. Robin Wasserman pulls you into her mystery, leaving a trail of clues from a history that is half-fabricated and half-legitimate.
The amazing thing about this is that while the focus is, of course, untangling the mess they’re in, Nora is still so authentic. She spares thoughts for grief and for her relationships and friendships. It’s balanced properly so that I don’t want to strangle her for being either a) inhuman or b) foolish for ignoring her bigger problems.
One note that I have to make was that The Book of Blood and Shadow made me a little sad. Two sets of people with differentiating ideals were moved to violence over it. And that’s real… but as a commentary on humanity, depressing.
Overall rating: 4/5. The Book of Blood and Shadow is an amazingly crafted mystery that draws on history to further it.