Friday, May 25, 2012

Review: The Book of Blood and Shadow by Robin Wasserman

*book image courtesy of Goodreads*

Title:  The Book of Blood and Shadow  
Author:  Robin Wasserman
Genre:  Young Adult Mystery/Thriller
Publisher:  Random House Children’s Books
Format:  NetGalley Digital Galley
Release Date:  April 10, 2012

One girl is determined to find the truth and avenge the dead.

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

The next morning it was all still true:  Chris was dead, Adriane, his girlfriend and Nora’s best friend, was catatonic. And Max, Nora’s sweet, smart, soft-spoken Prince Charming was gone. He was also a murderer—at least according to the police, her parents and everyone.

Desperate to prove Max’s 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 (Summary via NetGalley).

I have very mixed feelings about this book. I really enjoyed it at first, but then I got overwhelmed trying to keep the storylines, the languages and the various characters’ lies straight. It started to seem like work to read this book.

Chris, Max and Nora work as research assistants trying to decipher a 400 year old book, the Voynich manuscript. Nora, who knows Latin, is put to work translating letters from a girl named Elizabeth Weston. At first the three friends don’t take what they are doing very seriously; they take naps instead of working, Chris disappears with his girlfriend Adriane (also Nora’s best friend) for hours and Nora and Max start to explore a new relationship. But all that changes when Nora stumbles upon something she shouldn’t know and suddenly her life is turned upside down. Chris is dead, Adriane seems to have gone crazy and Max is the main suspect in Chris’s murder.

Sounds great, right? It was, until the story moves to Prague. That’s when stuff started to move so fast and to become so convoluted, that I couldn’t keep it straight.

Wasserman uses a variety of languages in The Book of Blood and Shadows. The most prominent is Latin and later, Czechoslovakian.  At first, when the Latin was just used to describe the letters, I was able to keep up with what was happening. But again, after the move to Prague, it became extremely hard to follow. Wasserman chose to write out phrases and the like in either language and then put an English translation. I don’t know about you, but when a foreign language I don’t speak is used in a book, I tend to skim past it, knowing full well I can’t read what it says. Unfortunately, I kept missing the English translations in this book, in part because there is A LOT of Latin and Czech in this book. With so much foreign language being used, Wasserman might have been better served saying it was written in a certain language and then just putting the English translation.

The constant shifting of locations was also difficult to follow. Wasserman seems to be quite familiar with Prague, so much so that I felt like she was taking me on a sightseeing tour of the city.  There were in-depth, historical descriptions of a great many areas of the city. At times this felt like a distraction, and honestly, I don’t think it will hold the attention of your average teenager. And sadly, if a teenager loses interest in a book, it is usually going to be put down and not picked back up. While I admire Wasserman’s attempt to infuse culture into her young adult readers, particularly in regards to a city they know little about, I’m not sure a book meant to be read for enjoyment is the place to do so.

If you dig underneath all the language and all of the tourist information regarding Prague, you will find a book worth reading. Unfortunately, I’m not sure a lot of today’s “instant gratification” teenagers will do that.

My grade for The Book of Blood and Shadow by Robin Wasserman:



  1. I've been debating about reading this book - it sounds good, but I've seen a lot of murder mysteries set in foreign cities. If the setting is that rich, though, I might have to check it out. Thanks for the review!

  2. I saw the other cover at my local bookstore and was so tempted to get it. Perhaps I should re-consider it carefully. The mystery in it sounds interesting enough to read though... Thanks for sharing. :)



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