Saturday, September 15, 2012

The Book of Blood and Shadow by Robin Wasserman

I got this book a long time ago. It’s been on my TBR list since its publication. My favorite reviewers/bloggers and even some of my favorite authors have done nothing but rave about this book. So of course, I dove into with high expectations, which can be a risky thing to do. And in this case, I think my expectations were a little too high.
I enjoyed it. It definitely stands out as a unique piece of YA fiction, but it wasn’t what I wanted it to be. I also think reviewing/summarizing it will be hard because there is just so much info I really don’t want to give away. And I’m sorry for any spoilers that might pop up in my review. I kind of see no way of going around them because the book starts in the middle. And the middle, as you can tell from the title, involves a lot of blood.
The middle: Nora going over to her best friend’s house to find blood everywhere, her best friend lying dead on the floor, her best friend’s girlfriend and therefore her friend mentally traumatized and pretty much comatose in shock, and her boyfriend MIA. Then everything goes back to a beginning where Nora, her best friend: Chris, Chris’s girlfriend Adriane, and Chris’s roommate, Max all get involved in the Latin translations of an ancient book.
Chris is a year older than Nora and Adriane (his girlfriend), and is at college. He gets Nora involved with the Latin translations because Nora is a Latin genius. Max is interested in Latin as well. And Adriane really doesn’t have much to do with the translations, but hangs out with everyone anyway –throwing in some yoga stretches every now and then. Nora is told to focus on some letters written in the time period of the book while the boys get to work with the actual book hands-on.
No one knows though that the letters are actually more important. The letters involve the key to finding the mystical device mentioned in the book, a device that allows human beings to literally converse with God. Everything is pretty much normal until the professor leading all the students with this project is attacked and all the manuscripts go missing.  From there comes break-ins, funerals, hospital visits, and a lot of confusion.
When Adriane finally comes to from her traumatizing experience, she of course remembers nothing. And the girls decided to continue on their class Paris trip even though the two boys they’d hoped on spending it with are gone. No one knows where Max is and the police seem pretty intent on keeping him as the prime suspect in Chris’ murder investigation. Luckily (or maybe not so luckily depending on how you look at it), Nora really connected to the woman who’s letters she was reading. The woman (century’s ago) had been really brave and eager to prove herself intellectually just like Nora, but more than that she had lost an older brother. Nora has lost her older brother too.
And because Nora felt that one particular letter was too private for anyone else to see, she kept it (illegally). And while this letter is the reason her best friend is dead, it also provides the starting point for one epic European goose chase. Nora and Adriane go off to search for the machine that so many people seem so willing to die and kill for. The book deals with death, mourning, murder, faith, science, education, love, friendship, and history. And I loved the scene where we finally get to see what the machine is or isn’t capable of! Yes, the girls make it that far, but that’s all I’m going to say.

So how could I not have loved this story? It was pretty epic. And I was dying to see how everything would turn out. I also loved how smart and relatable Nora was. I loved how believable and flirty Adriane was too.  I loved how the two of them sort of just became friends out of necessity even though they had nothing in common. I loved how every character valued knowledge so highly! Even Adriane who dumbs herself down sometimes for boys, was so clearly fascinated with where the letters were taking them.
I loved how smart this book was overall! I can see it being hard to read though for a lot of teens. There’s a lot of historical information and detail. There’s a lot of letters that kind of took me a little too far away from the real story sometimes and a lot of times felt unnecessary. It read like an adult book. And while I love adult themes in YA; the stuff seriously attracts more readers, I just see this kind of as an adult-ish book being hard for a lot of teens to finish. There’s so much detail, and it took me almost a week to read. My normal pace this past month has been a book a day. It didn’t take so long because it wasn’t interesting or wasn’t good. It just involved more work. Work can be good, but in this case I just wish it was little bit more fun. And believe me, I so think solving puzzles and translating ancient tomes is fun; it was just missing something, some spark that could make it more fun for young people.
The one thing that seriously bothered me (because its adultness/lack of spark still kind of worked for me) were the male characters. The only one I liked died. Chris was the only real guy for me. Max always seemed suspicious and unreal. And Eli just seemed too good to be true. And I never liked either of them. Nora was way too smart to fall for some of the stuff she did. I mean I just spent how many words talking about how adult the book was? Nora was so much an adult through everything that I found it hard to believe she was so childish when it came to all the boys who liked her.
And most of all, she was not angry enough about something one particular boy did! I just found her tolerance of what happened to be so unbelievable. She wasn’t given a lot of time to dwell, but still. There was so much dwelling on her brother and on Chris to the point where I really needed more progression in the book and considered putting it all down for good, and then when something major happens with her boyfriend, there’s no thinking about it at all.
Wasserman does get major credit from me for writing something so unique. I’ve seen this book repeatedly referred to as the YA The Da Vinci Code, and frankly, I think it was smarter than The Da Vinci Code, or at least more complex and thought out. I just wasn’t believing in or having any real empathy for the male characters. And there was a little too much focus for me on loss. It’s hard getting wrapped up in a thriller when there’s so much grief. I liked it sort of as a separate entity from the mystery, but by the end it kind of got in the way of my enjoyment of the mystery overall. I give this book a 7/10.


  1. I didn't really bond with Chris, but I could see that being a problem. Eli totes didn't come across as too perfect to me either, so I really ended up liking him, though at first i wanted to smack him.

    Not having read The DaVinci Code, I can't say for sure, but I suspect you speak truth about the comparison. This book was SO smart.

  2. oh my! how did I miss this one? holy cow, this one is definitely for me, so I'm putting it on my "must read" list! Thank you for sharing your review! Bravo!

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