Wednesday 15 February 2012

Review: The Book of Blood and Shadow by Robin Wasserman

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.

Since Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code took the world by storm there have been hundreds of what I like to call 'quest novels' published. Of course, they were around long before The DVC, and 'quest' is one of my favourite genres of adult novels, which is why I first picked up Angels and Demons not long after it was first published in the UK. You cannot go into any major book store (or supermarket) these days without seeing a plethora of these books begging to be bought. A state of affairs that has long had me asking the question - why on earth are there not more (any?) quest novels being written for young adults?? Author Robin Wasserman has now delivered her reply, and it's a cracker.

I probably would not have picked up The Book of Blood and Shadows if I had seen it in a book shop. The cover almost shouts "YA paranormal romance" to my blinkered mind, and with nary enough hours in the day to read all of the books I already have I am pretty sure this one would have slipped by the wayside. Fortunately I picked up on a few comments made on Twitter by some of my fellow bloggers, and the generous people at Atom sent me a copy to try out. Thank you Atom - I loved it!

The book tells the story of Nora Kane, a high school student who has joined a college project to decipher a centuries old mystery known as the Voynich manuscript (google it - it exists). Nora's father is an expert on classical languages, and Nora has been brought up to be something of a whizz at translating Latin texts, so she is more than a little put out when the bad tempered head of the project assigns her the task of translating a bundle of seemingly pointless letters written by a young lady centuries earlier. This young lady, Elizabeth Weston, just happens to have been the daughter of Edward Kelley, the alchemist who may have been the author of the ancient Book, but this fact is still not enough to stop Nora from sulking. However, once she starts working her way through the letters she becomes more and more interested in Elizabeth's life, and slowly begins to realise that the letters may be much more important than anyone had previously thought.

Of course, a quest novel isn't a quest novel without someone getting brutally murdered along the way, and The Book of Blood and Shadow is no exception to this rule. The victim in this case is Nora's closest friend Chris, and before she knows it she finds herself under suspicion of complicity in the crime, and her own boyfriend the police's main suspect. Nora's quest to prove his innocence and to solve both the ancient and modern mysteries sees her jetting off to Europe, and then running away to Prague with Chris's girlfriend Adriane, and this is when the thriller part of the story really kicks in.

To say any more would be to create spoilers. I started reading this book with few preconceptions as to what it would be like, and I think it was all the better for this. What I will say is that the characters are spot on, especially Nora who is far from being a perfect heroine in that she can by self-centred and moody at times, but she will also stop at nothing to find out who killed her friend. However, the people around her do not always share these same goals, and Nora quickly develops trust issues bordering on paranoia at times, although in this case Joseph Heller's famous quote from Catch-22 "just because your paranoid doesn't mean they aren't after you" is perfectly apt in this case. 

This is a story of crosses, double-crosses, triple-crosses and perhaps even quadruple-crosses that will have you guessing up until the very end. In fact, just as you have decided for sure that you know who the murderer might be, something happens that has you changing your mind. And then a couple of chapters on and you change your mind back again. And so on and so forth. If you like mystery stories, this one is for you. Similarly if you like action thrillers. And absolutely for you if like me you like quest novels.

One of my great loves as far as quest novels is concerned is the way authors (yes, even Dan Brown) take historical facts and twist them around to suit their story. Of course, they risk facing the wrath of the historical society dullards  who don't like this sort of thing, but that doesn't mean that they do not put in hours and hours and hours researching the background for their story. Robin Wasserman has certainly earned her 'top researcher' badge in writing this book, as we discover in the afterword that many of the historical figures she weaves into her story were real people.

Robin Wasserman can hold her head high in the company of the likes of Dan Brown, Andy McDermott, Scott Mariani and other writers of adult quest novels. The Book of Blood and Shadow is a fascinating and thrilling read and I would recommend it to teen boys and girls who want a little more mystery in their reading material.


  1. Great review, I've read, and enjoyed, this one. I'm actually REALLY surprised it's not being marketed as more of a crossover, I think it holds up well against Brown/Kuzneski/Rollins and similar adult 'quest novel' authors.

  2. Eeee! I just received a copy of this today and I'm so excited to read it now! I love books that are set in beautiful far-off lands that I may never visit in my life lol. Thanks for the great review!