By: Robin Wasserman
“I should probably start with the blood.”
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.
The Book of Blood and Shadow is like two books in one: first, you have Nora and her friends, their lives, how they deal with school and relationships. Then you have a mad dash through the streets of Prague searching for mysterious clues to an ancient puzzle, which once solved, can give a glimpse into the divine.
Nora's past involves a tragedy that she keeps to herself. Her parents are lost in themselves, leaving Nora as an afterthought. Nora, a bit of a Latin prodigy, was admitted to a prestigious school on the other side of town, disconnected enough from her world that no one knows about her past. There she becomes best friends with Chris and his girlfriend, Adriane. Fast forward to Nora's senior year, where she is interning at the local university where Chris is attending, and they both assist a professor in translating and transcribing 400 year old Latin texts, along with Chris's roommate, Max. They're attempting to break a code that has puzzled the best mathematicians and code breakers for four centuries. Nora finds the key to breaking the code, and the wrong people notice, leading to the death of her best friend. To avenge Chris's murder and clear Max's name, Nora and Adriane head to Prague, where the Latin texts were originally written. There, they stumble through clues that lead to an unexpected ending.
The first half of the book feels like a typical real-life-issues young adult novel. The characters struggle through evolving relationships, family issues, and the question of their future. You get to know them and connect to them, the whole time knowing that one of them will shortly die while another is blamed for that murder. The first page opens with these bombshells, quickly followed by a flash-back that leads up to this big moment. After that, we get to the mystery in Prague, where Nora and Adriane search for Max and hide from more than one secret society that wants to hinder or hurt them.
The mystery and historical portions of the story were fascinating. Wasserman does a great job of describing a scene and really getting you attached to the characters. The only thing I wasn't terribly fond of was the religion angle; at times it felt like Wasserman was getting a bit heavy handed with the atheism, while at other times she provided an interesting focus on historical and current Judaism and the mysticism tied to the ancient relic they were searching for in Prague. Like The Da Vinci Code and The Golden Compass, the religious aspect of the book could potentially turn off readers.
I really enjoyed this book and I would recommend it to anyone who loves a good mystery or treasure hunt. Wasserman included a lot of real historical information about Prague, plus the impossible code they were trying to break is actually real - and still unbroken; this will appeal to historical fiction fans. It was great learning about a part of the world and a part of history that I wasn't familiar with, that of Prague during the Renaissance. The Book of Blood and Shadow is a very cool book and a great read.