Book Review: The Book of Blood and Shadow by Robin Wasserman

Publisher: Atom

Published: 19th January 2012

Format: Paperback

Pages: 434

Genre: Mystery, Thriller, YA

Recommended Reading Age: 16+

Rating: 7.5/10

Amazon/Goodreads

It was like a nightmare, but there was no waking up. 

When the night began, Nora had two best friends and a boyfriend she adored. When it ended, she had nothing but blood on her hands. Chris was dead. Adriane couldn’t speak. 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’s determined to follow the trail of blood, no matter where it leads. But Chris’s murder 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.

The Book of Blood and Shadow is not an easy read. It’s complicated and intricately woven, perhaps even a little convoluted in places. It’s not all action and takes its time. There are a lot of scenes where Nora is simply translating and decoding Latin manuscripts and a few parts I raised my eyebrows at. The old lady in me was quite distressed for the poor teachers who have three of their students run away during a school trip abroad. Several times I wondered why no one just went to the police. Then there’s the ending, which is little insane.

But I still enjoyed this book.

*spoilers in white*

Nora, Max and Chris are earning extra credit by helping a grumpy, ill-humoured, professor translate a historically important manuscript, one that purportedly holds the secrets of the Lumen Dei, a device that is said to communicate directly with God. Nora has been saddled translating the less important, but nevertheless, fascinating, diary of a 16th Century girl, Elizabeth. As Nora begins to form an emotional connection to her, a girl who perhaps knows more about the Lumen Dei than anyone else, she starts to care more about keeping Elizabeth’s secrets then sharing them. But there are dangerous people out there who will do anything to know the secrets of the Lumen Dei, and others still who would kill to keep it a mystery.

Wasserman develops her characters with a sophistication that is not often found in YA. After an opening chapter that begins with death and blood, The Book of Blood and Shadow jumps back in time and slows right down, as Wasserman takes the time to introduce her characters and carefully build up their messy, complicated, enviable relationships. I loved the centuries-old mystery, the atmosphere of the book, the setting, the sense of history, alchemy and religion, the conspiracies, secret societies with hidden agendas, the five hundred year old diary of Elizabeth Weston. But it was the characters that made this book for me That you were never quite certain who to trust, or who was lying, made the story all the more compelling.

Nora is exactly the type of heroine I love. Ordinary, down to earth, intelligent, funny. The raw pain over loosing Chris, even before we know and mourn the character ourselves, was on every page. Max, quiet and studious, was the perfect match for Nora, despite his (irritating) tendency to quote poetry and his sullen mood-swings. Their relationship is sweet and grounded, and nicely built up, so that we believe in his innocence, along with Nora. (Though personally, I didn’t have time his moods and found him patronising from the get go. Wasserman succeeded in making me believe he was a good guy – but I didn’t like him. Of course, having finished the book, I feel completely justified in my early hatred. My love for Chris is such that I only wish to stomp on Max’s head whenever I think about him.) And Chris! Even now, my heart aches a little whenever I think about him and what should have been. Chris is dead. It’s his blood all over the walls and Nora’s hands in the opening chapter. And yet, I loved him the most. I was devastated at his death, even though I knew it was coming.

The Book of Blood and Shadow is an intelligent, on the whole, well-crafted story by a skilled writer. It won’t be for everyone. And it’s not perfect. To enjoy this you’ll have to suspend belief and look past the unlikelihood of no one discovering the (poorly) hidden pages in Elizabeth’s diary before now, that a young school girl could decipher an ancient manuscript where scholars have failed, the ease in which Nora figures out the code, how important clues and artifacts have remained safely hidden and untouched throughout Prague over the centuries etc. The ending suddenly became a bit too Raiders of the Lost Ark for my liking, but the closing chapter was poignant and perfect.

For readers who love a rich setting, a historical feel and a centuries-old mystery, this is an interesting mixture of truth and fiction.

Things don’t just fall apart. People break them.

~ page 1

*Many thanks to Atom and UK Book Tours for making this available for review*

You can read an opening extract from The Book of Blood and Shadow here

Check out these other reviews:

Wear the Old Coat

The Pewter Wolf

Daisy Chain Reviews

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2 thoughts on “Book Review: The Book of Blood and Shadow by Robin Wasserman

  1. Glad you liked it! This has been on my wishlist for a while now so I’m happy to hear that it doesn’t disappoint! I love that Nora is the perfect protagonist. Those traits are also one’s that I look for in a main character. Plus, it sounds like a really great mystery and I’ve heard that it’s not one easily solved which is definitely a good sign! Amazing review : ) I really can’t wait to read this now!

    • Thanks! There’s just something different about this one that makes it stand out from other YA – at least anything I’ve read recently.

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