Title: The Book of Blood and Shadow
Author: Robin Wasserman
No. of Pages: 448
Genre: Young Adult; Thriller
Origins: Mine. All mine.
Release Date: 10 April 2012
“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.”
Thoughts on the Novel: An adult reading The Book of Blood and Shadow must suspend disbelief. This is not due to any one particular element of the story but rather to a collection of issues. For one, there is the idea of a group of teenagers roaming around Europe by themselves. This is and of itself not a big deal because teenagers backpack through Europe all the time. However, it is the furtive escape from Paris and the school chaperones that becomes bothersome when seen in the context of the rest of the novel. Combined with this escape is the fact that Nora seems to be the only person capable of solving the centuries-long mystery. She alone knows Latin well enough to be able to translate key documents accurately and quickly. She is the only one to obtain access to these documents. She understands the mindset of the person who penned the documents and is the sole person who can interpret the meaning of the cryptic statements within each manuscript. That is a lot of pressure for one lone teenage girl.
Then there is the issue of Nora’s lack of ability in other key areas. She speaks and reads Latin fluently, but she cannot pick up one iota of French or the Czech language. She can interpret the most obscure of historical documents but cannot read people. Her skill set does not make sense. She’s intuitive but only with documents written by people who died hundreds of years ago. She has a strong sense of survival but cannot pick up on the body language clues of others. She is quick to grasp a dead language but cannot understand a modern one that is based on that dead language. It is as if Ms. Wasserman selected key traits for their convenience to the story without any basis in reality.
Lastly, there is the group of acquaintances that just so happen to have the skills she lacks that allow her to finish her quest and solve the riddle. There is the mysterious man with money and a fluency in multiple languages. There is the best friend with the guile necessary to encourage Nora to escape the school trip and travel across Europe. There is even the love interest which provides the impetus for the entire journey. They all prove useful for what Nora needs at any given time, and that also rings false for readers. The entire story is one in which every single action Nora takes is just a bit too good to be true.
While the story lacks in character development and realism, it does try to amend those deficiencies with the action and suspense. In fact, a lot happens in a relatively short period of time. This is both good and bad. On the one hand, see above for the whole suspension of disbelief argument. On the other hand, it means a story that is fast-paced and therefore quick to read. Nora finds herself in many dangerous situations and at the wrong end of a weapon more than once. These bursts of excitement help offset the drudgery established by some of the other issues.
Younger readers may have a much easier time accepting all that Nora accomplishes practically single-handedly, and this is okay. It is a novel geared towards young adults after all. However, The Book of Blood and Shadow does not have that cross-generational appeal of other young adult novels in recent years. There are just one too many problems with the characters and the story for adults to be able to escape into its pages and enjoy the novel for the roller coaster ride it is meant to be.