Mark's Reviews > The Book of Blood and Shadow

The Book of Blood and Shadow by Robin Wasserman
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's review
Apr 05, 2012

really liked it
bookshelves: death-and-dying, history, printz-hopeful, religion, relationships, romance-star-crossed-or-otherwise, suspense, young-adult-literature
Read from April 05 to 09, 2012

** spoiler alert ** 'What?'

'Why you can't let yourself believe in all this. Why you need the Lumen Dei not to be real.'

'I thought I was pretty clear. I can't believe in it because it's ridiculous and because there's no such thing as --'

'God. You were clear,' he said. 'Because if there were a God, he took your brother away. He took Chris away. What would you want with a God like that? But if there were a machine - a miracle - that could prove you were wrong, you'd be stuck with him. And you'd have to ask why he took them.'

'You think that scares me?'

'I think you're afraid to believe there's something out there that wants to take everything you love away from you. And maybe...afraid to hope that with the Lumen Dei, with the power it's supposed to confer, maybe you could bring them back.'"

Nora Kane lives a fairly uneventful life in a small college town. Her studies at Chapman Prep, specifically her gift for Latin, leads her to a supervised independent study project at the local college, working as part of a research team translating letters written in Latin, under the loose supervision of an aged yet determined professor. Nora is given the relatively unenviable task of translating the letters of Elizabeth Weston (yes, the actual poet), who was stepdaughter to Edward Kelley, a famous 16th-century alchemist. The task of translating the seemingly more interesting Kelley letters falls to Nora’s best friend, Chris, and his roommate, Max. Translating Elizabeth's letters to her brother, Nora discovers that Elizabeth was intimately involved with the plans for the Lumen Dei, a device that would supposedly allow its users to speak with God. But as Elizabeth's letters become more desperate, Nora finds that she and her research team are getting dangerously close to exposing dark, long-held secrets. And there are many people who will want them to be silenced before they reveal those secrets. When Chris is brutally murdered because he holds one of Elizabeth's last letters, it leaves his girlfriend, Adriane, catatonic, and Max mysteriously gone. Nora and Max have grown to love one another during their work on the project, and while Nora is convinced that Max couldn’t have had anything to do with Chris’s murder, she doesn’t have many clues as to who else could have committed the act. Signs and clues from the letters lead Nora, Adriane and Chris’s cousin to Prague, where their search for Max quickly devolves into a sinister journey into the dark past of a nation and family, a journey that will force them to cross paths with ancient societies, fierce zealots, and realize that no one is really who you believe them to be. All this in a centuries-old quest to obtain and use the Lumen Dei, which can immediately change history forever.

While something of a slow-starter, this novel soon grabbed me. I’ve never read THE DA VINCI CODE or THE HISTORIAN, two titles I’m seeing this novel compared to a lot, and that’s probably for the best. But the same elements that seem to appear in those novels (long-lost secrets, coded messages, secret and sinister groups, and an intertwining of science and religion) show up here. The pacing in this book is outstanding, once things get rolling, and the way Wasserman merges Nora’s dangerous search in Prague with the ancient letters and clues of Elizabeth is very well done. Nora and Adriane’s characters are well-drawn, and display tremendous growth over the course of the book. However, the male characters are, by comparison, relatively flat; I get that Wasserman has to keep them somewhat vague, in order to spring the surprises about their identities later. Still, those surprises were pretty easy to spot from a distance, and because I wasn’t as invested in the characters of Max or Eli (or even Chris, for that matter), I found myself not caring as much when Nora discovered who they were. I was much more interested in the structure and writing in the novel, than the actual twists, I suppose. This is a very entertaining read, and one that will challenge readers; the language and sentence structures are much more advanced than in much other YA, and the length of the novel may scare some readers away. I would not be surprised at all to see this mentioned in Printz discussions. Highly recommended.
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