I told my mom the title of the book I was reading and she immediately responded by pulling a face and asking, “why would you read that?” I was wondering the same thing. Why do I do things like this to myself?
The Book of Blood and Shadow, it should be obvious, was dark and bloody. The story starts right off with our narrator, Nora, revealing her best friend Chris’ violent death. (How’s that for a dangling carrot?) Keep reading and you realize the story starts a long time before that. Like…the 15th century before. The Voynich manuscript is actually one of the world’s most mysterious manuscripts, filled with codes and ciphers scholars still can’t figure out. In The Book of Blood and Shadow, however, they do. Go figure – a group of four smart-mouthed Latin-speaking teenagers are able to crack the code all the grown-ups of the last five hundred years were not able to. But instead of being hurled in to a life of fame and futher academia, they’re now under the close watch of a four-hundred year old secret society with a thirst for blood. Post-Chris’ death and after another one goes missing, Nora and her Last Friend Standing go to Prague to try and solve the mystery. Stuff happens; they run amok around this ancient city where they’re supposedly being followed but keep dogging capture; they mourn for their losses which stack up by the second; they engage in rapid-fire dialogue that’s so clever it borders on irritating; they tell lies to each other as they search for the truth; they do other typical teenagery things like engage in love triangles and translate a lot of boring letters from their original Latin…. More people die, more Latin is translated, more clues to this great mystery unfold.
It all seems like a yawn till Wasserman hits you with another plot twist. Whenever I wanted to put the book down, I’d turn the page to a new tidbit that forced me to keep going. While I really like a book that keeps you on the edge of your seat, this one was confusing, because it’s kinda vaguely interesting (if not, at least well-written) until it gets good. Then it goes back to kinda vaguely interesting for a while before getting super awesome again…not exactly the ideal pace.
I’m not sure how teenagers (the intended audience) would respond to the tale as a whole. I’m pretty moderately smart, I have a big vocabulary and a general sense of the time period this refers back to, and still this book was difficult for me at times (though that could be because I wasn’t invested enough)! Plus, I’m just not sure your average teen reader is gonna have as much patience needed for this one (I say this with little conviction, since I’m always one to put a lot of faith in young readers).
Too much of this book is spoilers, so I’ll end this review with a couple helpful lists and call it a day. Tell me your thoughts about this book if you’ve read it, plan to read it, or want nothing to do with it – I’d love to know how you feel about it!
Read this book if:
- Linguistics interest you (especially Latin or Czech).
- You enjoy history, particularly Eastern Europe and the Middle Ages.
- You’re in for the long haul (it’s over 400 pages – long for YA!) and don’t mind a heavy thematic emphasis on death and faith.
- You’re in Da Vinci Code withdrawal and will settle for the wannabe teenage version.
Don’t read this book if:
- You don’t really care to read long fictional letters from the past, wrought with the names of (too) many characters.
- You’re faint-hearted. Like I said – this one’s got a lot of blood and gore, as well as a lot of heavy theological philosophy.
- You don’t like conspiracies or conspiracy theory-type stuff.
- Your favourite book is something along the lines of Goodnight Moon.