Friday, July 27, 2012

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 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 Shadows really took me by surprise, for many reason.  I know my Tudor history and I have read a lot of books on John Dee, Queen Elizabeth's astrologer and magician / wizard, which is why I knew who Edward Kelley was.  None of this will make sense to you until you sit down and read the book, but Edward Kelley is deemed to have been a charlatan, a hoaxer who brought a lot of the sciences of the day in disrepute.  So it came as a surprise to me that one of the characters in the book, through letters, is Elizabeth Weston (his step-daughter) and it was interesting to see how Ms. Wasserman gave a different slant on Kelley to what I've heard of in the past.

The Book of Blood and Shadows surrounds Nora and her friends translating Latin works as extra credit towards starting university.  It was really interesting seeing how well Ms. Wasserman set up the scenes, allowing us to see and assume what we do as the novel starts off.  As we follow Nora quite closely, we are very involved with her own discoveries, as she translates the letters of Elizabeth Weston, the daughter of the woman who married Edward Kelley and followed him to Prague.  The work is given to Nora to do as it was low-key and deemed unimportant by the professor they worked for as it was written by a mere woman.   Nora swallowed the insult, mentioning a few times that she was the better translator, compared to Max and Chris, yet because she was the girl, she was given a rubbish job...or so it would seem.  As she falls deeper and deeper into the mystery contained within Elizabeth's writings, we are drawn closer into conspiracies, mysterious societies, plots and mysteries European cities.

I enjoyed The Book of Blood and Shadow but I worry that YA readers who aren't used to the (I don't want to use the word formula as it isn't quite that) patterns / beats that are hit when thrillers / quest novels are written, might lose interest as it's not action all the time with a lot of time spent on exposition and the reading of letters and proposing mad theories.  I realise too that it sounds like I'm saying YA readers only want action, which is utter tosh, of course, but it's not your average YA novel, that's the thing, so I urge readers who pick this up and think they're not getting what's been promised, to keep reading as it will surprise you.

Nora is a very complex character, a mouse really, who undergoes this great character arc by the end of the novel, setting us up for a sequel or two.  Questions raised in the novel get answered but not all of them, there are a few reveals, some of which are obvious, some of which aren't.  Most of all though, I finished reading TBOB&S and I wanted to travel back to Prague.  Like Laini Taylor's Daughter of Smoke and Bone, this book is steeped in location, location, location.  You cannot shake it off and it stays with you longer than the characters, to be honest.  To me, the places Ms. Wasserman describes became further characters in the book, and that is no mean feat for any writer to accomplish.

Give The Book of Blood and Shadow a try, stick with it - it is richly researched and can come across as a bit dry in places, but once you start putting together the clues in the book, and as Nora races to complete the task she takes on, you'll find yourself leaning into it, wondering more about the mystery behind it all and how much of it is real, and how much of it is made up.

Find Robin's website here and here is her introduction over at Atom's website about her novel.

US Cover which is very creepy! Look into her eye!


Unknown said...

Such an interesting review Liz. I have had this on my wish list for ages and I have heard great things about it. I read Wasserman's Hacking Harvard and that was outstanding. Full of action. It surprises me that this is less so. I'm actually not sure what to expect now. Thoughtful.

Jenni said...

Really interesting review, sounds like this is a book I would really enjoy.

Kerry said...

I'd never heard of this one and it sounds really interesting. A sample has been sent to my Kindle. Thanks for a great review.

Michelle Fluttering Butterflies said...

I really loved this one. Was a little slow to begin with, but I couldn't put it down. Loved the letters especially.