Book Reviews

[review] The Book of Blood and Shadow – Robin Wasserman

Release Date: April 10, 2012
Publisher: Random House Children’s Books
Age Group: Young Adult
Pages: 448
Format: Hardcover
Source: ARC received from publisher

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.

Tell Me More: It might only be April, but I feel confident in saying that The Book of Blood and Shadow might just be my favourite book of the year. Nora’s story reminded me of why I love young adult fiction and all its foibles and strangeness–sometimes a truly brilliant piece of literature can emerge and, to use the vernacular, knock everyone’s socks off.

There are a few different dimensions that come into play during the story: a historical mystery, a challenging romance and a commentary on religion and power. If you’ve read my reviews before, you can probably guess that the latter interested me more, but that isn’t to say that the other two aspects were found lacking. If anything, Robin Wasserman’s writing skills are highlighted even more by the way they play off and intertwine with one another.

The mysterious text that sends Nora on this dangerous adventure is called the Voynich Manuscript, long believed to be a ciphertext that has remained undecipherable since the 15th century. Wasserman’s attention to detail and accuracy are to be lauded, considering how little is actually known about the manuscript and its author. I appreciated that she didn’t adopt a condescending tone in the story and that the text assumed a natural maturity in its readers. The care she takes in setting up the events in the novel is unmatched by many authors these days, I find. There were some concerns on my end that Nora’s age would make the plot unbelievable and far-fetched, but I was pleased to see that Robin Wasserman had answers for every question I could possibly ask, including the difficult ones about faith, science and the human experience.

YA is a brave genre, but one thing it never seems to touch positively on is religion. I say this having read many novels and short stories about the loss of faith or evangelical extremism, but barely any about kids who happily identify themselves as Christians/Jews/Muslims/etc. As a blogger, I sense a reluctance to discuss those issues among my fellow readers, and I’m not sure why that has to be the case. I appreciated Robin Wasserman’s unwavering commitment to the story and its characters, which is highlighted best in its themes. The Book of Blood and Shadow is not a book about religion, but it is a book about faith. It touches on the loss of an imaginative vision as our ancestors knew it, and the things we miss even with highly developed technology. It asks readers to consider the relationship between science and religion through the perspective of a long-deceased girl who wanted to protect the people she loved.

Elizabeth Weston and Nora share one key trait: they believed in people, not a distant religion. But what is religion if not something heavily based on a human understanding of the world or lack of it? The Greeks created myths about nature in an attempt to comprehend the sheer wonder of their world. Nora pursues the truth about the manuscript in order to understand why Chris and Adriane became victims. And it all culminates in a shocking finale that shines a light on the darkest parts of the human soul.

I don’t need a book that shouts about how awesome religion is or how everyone should go to church or even that religion sucks. But I always look for stories that offer a different perspective on controversial issues, while never belittling the people who believe otherwise. I yearn for novels that will tell its readers things they might not necessarily want to hear, and books that will inspire readers to ask more of themselves than they think they can achieve. The Book of Blood and Shadow is all three.

The Final Say: Take the shadowy path to Prague and mystery with Nora. Your mind and heart will never be the same.

Be sure to visit Robin Wasserman at her website and follow her on Twitter @robinwasserman.

You can check out The Book of Blood and Shadow on Goodreads and order it from The Book Depository.

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3 replies »

  1. Just finished this last night and I really enjoyed it. One of the first things I said to those around me when I finished it was that I liked how she didn’t fall into the convenient trap of blaming religion for all the evils in the world (because with this plot I could have easily seen that happen). Glad to see I wasn’t the only one who appreciated this.

  2. I really enjoyed how Robin wrote this book. Especially with how she wrote about the religious aspect, your review says it perfectly with how the book considers a relationship between science and religion. I’m the same as you, I don’t want a book that tells me religion is the best thing ever or even the other way around. I love how you put everything in your review. This is definitely one of my favourites of the year as well 🙂

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