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The Book of Blood and Shadow by Robin…
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The Book of Blood and Shadow

by Robin Wasserman

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An adult reading The Book of Blood and Shadow must suspend disbelief. This is not due to any one particular element of the story but rather to a collection of issues. For one, there is the idea of a group of teenagers roaming around Europe by themselves. This is and of itself not a big deal because teenagers backpack through Europe all the time. However, it is the furtive escape from Paris and the school chaperones that becomes bothersome when seen in the context of the rest of the novel. Combined with this escape is the fact that Nora seems to be the only person capable of solving the centuries-long mystery. She alone knows Latin well enough to be able to translate key documents accurately and quickly. She is the only one to obtain access to these documents. She understands the mindset of the person who penned the documents and is the sole person who can interpret the meaning of the cryptic statements within each manuscript. That is a lot of pressure for one lone teenage girl.

Then there is the issue of Nora’s lack of ability in other key areas. She speaks and reads Latin fluently, but she cannot pick up one iota of French or the Czech language. She can interpret the most obscure of historical documents but cannot read people. Her skill set does not make sense. She’s intuitive but only with documents written by people who died hundreds of years ago. She has a strong sense of survival but cannot pick up on the body language clues of others. She is quick to grasp a dead language but cannot understand a modern one that is based on that dead language. It is as if Ms. Wasserman selected key traits for their convenience to the story without any basis in reality.

Lastly, there is the group of acquaintances that just so happen to have the skills she lacks that allow her to finish her quest and solve the riddle. There is the mysterious man with money and a fluency in multiple languages. There is the best friend with the guile necessary to encourage Nora to escape the school trip and travel across Europe. There is even the love interest which provides the impetus for the entire journey. They all prove useful for what Nora needs at any given time, and that also rings false for readers. The entire story is one in which every single action Nora takes is just a bit too good to be true.

While the story lacks in character development and realism, it does try to amend those deficiencies with the action and suspense. In fact, a lot happens in a relatively short period of time. This is both good and bad. On the one hand, see above for the whole suspension of disbelief argument. On the other hand, it means a story that is fast-paced and therefore quick to read. Nora finds herself in many dangerous situations and at the wrong end of a weapon more than once. These bursts of excitement help offset the drudgery established by some of the other issues.

Younger readers may have a much easier time accepting all that Nora accomplishes practically single-handedly, and this is okay. It is a novel geared towards young adults after all. However, The Book of Blood and Shadow does not have that cross-generational appeal of other young adult novels in recent years. There are just one too many problems with the characters and the story for adults to be able to escape into its pages and enjoy the novel for the roller coaster ride it is meant to be.
  jmchshannon | Aug 6, 2015 |
This is a mystery that starts with a group of students working with their slightly dotty prof on solving the Voynich manuscript (a real unsolved puzzle) and rapidly becomes a thriller somewhat like the Da Vinci Code: threading ancient mysteries through a present that's suddenly got them all coming to the head. It's a very cool blend of researched work and fast-paced fiction, and while it wasn't at all what I'd expected, I enjoyed it nonetheless.
  terriko | Jan 7, 2014 |
I'm going to have to put this on my DNF shelf because, although I thoroughly enjoyed the writing style, it simply isn't my kind of story. I will say that this author has such a unique way of phrasing, simple sentencing yet so beautifully stated that her writing kept me reading on long after I became disinterested in the plot and characters. I would definitely read another book or series by this author.
  a.happy.booker | Sep 24, 2013 |
The blurb of this book definitely makes it sound exciting. It's what drew me to the book in the first place. But it also makes it sound like a 'typical' YA novel - it doesn't reveal what's really hidden within this book.

And that just happens to be something original, exciting and very refreshing. What starts out as a Latin project develops into something much more sinister and dark, involving a group known as 'Seekers' and an object called the 'Lumen Dei'.

We have our protagonist, Nora Kane, just an average looking teenage girl, not particularly popular, but not a social outcast. Checking off all the YA boxes there, but that's about where it stops. Nora is especially good at Latin, what with having a Latin professor for a father, and having had lessons since she was young. She uses the study of Latin as an escape from the memories of her older brother's death, several years earlier. It's so nice to have a protagonist who has a skill like that, and is so blasé about it.

Nora's best friends, Chris and Adriane, also flesh out more as the story progresses - Chris more than Adriane, but it's nice to have so many of Nora's memories and happy moments added in. The relationships feel real. These are teenagers who've shared so much together, who've gone through hard times and fun times, who've stressed through exams and spent summers together by the lake. And you can really feel that. Nora's relationship with Max, her 'Prince Charming', was also very well done. In so many stories about teenage relationships these days, the characters seem to fall straight into love, but Nora questions several times whether she is in love or not. The attraction between her and Max is not instant, and in fact only appears with a little bit of a nudge. They don't do all these amazing things together: they act like a normal teenage couple. There are no big declarations of love, things progress slowly.

And between all these relationships, there's the action. With so many twists and turns, the story takes us from Massachusetts to Paris, and from Paris to Prague. Wasserman adds in a fantastic historical twist, all to do with the medieval Latin translations that Nora, Chris and Max were working on for a professor. The letters of Elizabeth Weston slowly reveal an eerie parallel with Nora's life until it seems that she has more of a link to her than just a pure interest and talent for Latin.

At times, parts of their exploration through Prague and discovery of more clues felt a little slow, but it was generally well-paced and exciting. And whilst it was interesting to have a main character with a talent for Latin, there wasn't much about Nora apart from that, the hole left by the death of her brother and her relationship with Max. It would have been nice to know what her other interests and passions were.

Overall, this was much more than I was expecting. An exciting 'historical' thriller, with well fleshed out characters and relationships, and plenty of (very shocking in places!) twists and turns, it's well worth a read. What's especially exciting is that many of the historical figures in the story within the story were real - but Wasserman has just taken a creative license to some of them.

Also posted on my book blog, Rinn Reads. ( )
  Rinnreads | Sep 24, 2013 |
An ancient coded manuscript leads four teens into a world of mystery, secret societies, and murder. Nora and her friends start decoding a manuscript rumored to contain the secret to a machine that can connect man to God. Nora’s relegated to translating the letters of the manuscript author’s daughter when she discovers that the letters actually hold the key. Now they’re the target of a secret society that will do anything, including murdering one of Nora’s friends, to gain this knowledge. Will they discover the secret before it’s too late? ( )
  ShellyPYA | Apr 8, 2013 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0375868763, Hardcover)

It was like a nightmare, but there was no waking up.  When the night began, Nora had two best friends and an embarrassingly storybook one true love.  When it ended, she had nothing but blood on her hands and an echoing scream that stopped only when the tranquilizers pierced her veins and left her in the merciful dark.

But the next morning, it was all still true: Chris was dead.  His girlfriend Adriane, Nora's best friend, was catatonic. 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 follows the trail of blood, no matter where it leads. It ultimately brings her to the ancient streets of Prague, where she is drawn into a dark web of secret societies and shadowy conspirators, all driven by a mad desire to possess something that might not even exist. For buried in a centuries-old manuscript is the secret to ultimate knowledge and communion with the divine; it is said that he who controls the Lumen Dei controls the world. Unbeknownst to her, Nora now holds the crucial key to unlocking its secrets. Her night of blood 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.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:21:52 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

While working on a project translating letters from sixteenth-century Prague, high school senior Nora Kane discovers her best friend murdered with her boyfriend the apparent killer and is caught up in a dangerous web of secret societies and shadowy conspirators, all searching for a mysterious ancient device purported to allow direct communication with God.… (more)

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