This review was originally published January 16th 2011 at www.chooseya.com
The Book of Blood and Shadow already has a place as one of my favourite books of the year so far, and yes it is only January. From its opening sentence "I should probably start with the blood." to its final words I was fully immersed into the world Wasserman created. Part mystery, part thriller, part crime, a tiny bit romance and wonderfully written as well. This is a novel I believe audiences regardless of age and has a wonderfully timeless, exciting quality to it.
Seventeen year old Nora Kane takes part in a research project with her best friend Chris and his roommate, Max, for a college professor, The Hoff, partly as a way to spend more time with Chris and as she has been promised it's an easy senior prokect. Nora is trapped in an almost Cyrano de Bergerac like love triangle where Chris is dating Adriane, Nora's other best friend despite Nora's feelings. While love triangles can be very badly done in YA, this love triangle was secondary enough and well written enough that it felt realistic and not melodramatic.
The group are researching The Book, a mysterious alchemical, philosophical text encoded for hundreds of years and the Hoff's lifelong passion. The Hoff suspects only a man named Edward Kelley came close to solving the mystery. In the course of translating letters by Kelley's daughter Elizabeth Weston, a low-responsibility task she suspects, Nora begins to find clues that will crack the mystery as well as finding herself feeling more and more of a bond to Elizabeth.
As the novel begins with the brutal murder of one central character in the first page, this novel is also about dealing with a crime and solving the murder.
There's an international novel as well; while several parts of the novel take part in America, we also are taken to France and Prague. Prague in particular came alive for me in this novel as much as any character and now I really want to visit there (thanks Robin Wasserman!) and was simply magical. In many ways with thriller like theme and cosmopolitan setting, it almost felt like the Bourne Identity or another movie like that.
Wasserman's prose is literary in quality yet not alienating. Nora's voice is really engaging and I also loved the use of short "chapters" or segments within the novel which varied in length from lines to pages and really helped empathise with the emotions Wasserman wanted to convey to the reader.
I recommend this novel to everyone, adults and teenagers alike, who wants to be taken on a thrilling adventure with their reading. It is a truly fantastic, gripping novel.
I received this book for free from Random House Children's Books via NetGalley. The Book of Blood and Shadow is published on January 19th in the UK and April 12th in the US.