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.
I thought it was cute that Robin Wasserman says in her acknowledgments, "Unlike Elizabeth, I am not a poet, or anything close...", because after spending 432 pages caught up in her lush world I couldn't disagree with her more. Wasserman's prose is haunting, it's got a style and ambiance both completely absorbing but at the same time so beautiful you can't help but stop and admire how she words things every once in awhile.
I should probably start with the blood.
If it bleeds it leads and all that, right? It's all anyone ever wants to know about, anyway. What did it look like? What did it feel like? Why was it all over my hands? And the mystery blood, all those unaccounted-for antibodies, those faceless corkscrews of DNA- who left them behind?
But beginning with that night, with the blood, means that Chris will never be anything more than a corpse, bleeding out all over his mother's travertine marble, Adriane nothing but a dead-eyed head case, rocking and moaning, her clothes soaked in his blood, her face paper white with that slash of red razored into her cheek. If I started there, Max would be nothing but a void. Null space; vacuum and wind.
Maybe that part would be right.
But not the rest of it. Because that wasn't the beginning, any more than it was the end. It was- note the brilliant deductive reasoning at work here- the middle. The centre of gravity around which we all spiralled, but none of us could see. The centre cannot hold, Max liked to say, back when things were new and quoting poetry seemed a suitably ironic way to declare our love. Things fall apart.
But things don't just fall apart. People break them.But her talents don't end at her ability to turn a sentence into something with more depth and meaning then average, her way with words also extends to her superb dialogue and complex characters. Nora, Chris, Adriane, Max and Eli were all those sudo Calvin and Hobbes types. Way smarter for their age then they aught to be, but in the most delicious way. Translating Latin, German Czech, figuring out complex codes, picking locks, speed readers who read and retain vast amounts of info from an even larger pool of genres and topics, and did I mention how clever and witty they are? Yet all while still being totally teen in their relationships and motivations. Simply put, they're utterly charming, and most unusually, not in the we're so popular/good looking, you have to love us kind of way.
Absolutely best of all though is her story telling. Wasserman launches you on a disturbing adventure pluming the depths of history and religion in a very Da Vinci's Code-esque style where vying secret cults and historical myths crash together in surprising and exciting ways. The twists and turns were impressive and shocking enough that I wanted to re-read The Book of Blood and Shadow as soon as I had finished it just to watch it come together now that I knew it's secrets. This was YA at it's smartest, and I loved the way she challenged her reader to keep up and didn't pander.
Without a doubt this was one of the best books I've read in quiet some time, and I know it seems like I've said that a lot since January (it's been an impressive year, I'm talking about you Fault in Our Stars and you Pure), but once again I'm blown away by an author who somehow I've missed out on until this moment. A serious mistake I intend to rectify pronto, you've been warned Chapters/Amazon, stock up in anticipation of me.
By the by, remember last week when I was talking religion via The Last Song (and also The Dovekeepers a little bit) and I mentioned that Robin was rocking my world in dealing with Religion in an interesting way? Well she talks about it in more depth in a great interview with Libba Bray, and I have to say, I really want to hear her 20 page exam answer. So Robin, you've been warned, I will buy all the cookies/pie you can handle if you'll talk Religion and Science with me while I'm in NYC for the BEA. Because I now love you like that. And History, and Pie, but mostly you (well and obviously The Book of Blood and Shadow).
Now stop reading and buy this book already, I'm guaranteeing you'll love it.
PS- it's got fantastic cover art and interior design as well, like really unusually good. I'm telling you, it's the whole package.
The Book of Blood and Shadow, by Robin Wasserman
Published by Random House, April 10th, 2012
My copy kindly provided by the publisher
Buy The Book of Blood and Shadow on Amazon