The Book of Blood and Shadow by Robin Wasserman is something of a historical fantasy adventure story. Opening in present day New England, it follows Nora Kane as she attempts to solve the mystery of the Book, revealed through letters written in 16th century Prague and supposedly about the creation of the Lumen Dei, a device allowing communication with god. She and her friend Chris and her boyfriend Max have been working on translation of these documents, and now Chris has been murdered, his girlfriend Adriane appears to have lost her mind, and Max has disappeared.
Right from the outset of The Book of Blood and Shadow, we know the major events and driving force of the story – Chris’s death, Adriane’s inability to tell what happened, and Max’s disappearance. This may seem like a strange way to introduce a story, as once this scene is set, we go back a bit to follow the group in the run up to this terrible night. Chris is set up a major character, yet we know that he will die. Yet this storytelling device works: Chris is very much a good guy, and it is poignant to get to know him, while knowing he won’t survive.
The Book of Blood and Shadow is a young adult novel, but is one which could be enjoyed by readers of most ages. It has something of The Da Vinci Code about it, an unravelling of a secret from history related to a religious item. However, it is quite hard to get into the story. At times it seems a bit over-ambitious, and isn’t always easy to follow. Nora’s narrative jumps between the present of the story and her past, as well as some glimpses forward. This is interspersed with excerpts from the letters she is translating from the 16th century. As well as telling the story, there are passages where Nora is rather introspective and vague, presumably designed to give us an insight into her character and emotions, but combined with the time-jumping elements of the narrative, this can just be confusing.
The story itself is exciting, and has plenty of different elements to it to keep the reader involved, but in places it is a bit too enigmatic and mysterious for its own good. Characters who seem good turn out to be bad guys – only to then become good guys pretending to be bad, so actually they’re good guys. Or are they? There are lots of twists and turns in terms of the characters intentions, and while some of this would be entirely appropriate to the nature of the novel, it almost makes your head spin.
Despite the sense that it is trying to achieve more than it can aspire to, The Book of Blood and Shadow is an enjoyable read. Although it takes a while to get into, it is an exciting and gripping story which you will want to see through to the end.
The Book of Blood and Shadow by Robin Wasserman
Published by Atom, April 2012
Many thanks to Atom for providing a review copy.
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