Nora Kane has to endure the impossible when her brother dies. Her parents retreat into separate worlds of despair, leaving Nora to stumble along alone. High school is torture with everyone staring and talking, even glaring and accusing, since her brother also took his popular girlfriend with him to the grave in the accident. To escape the achingly familiar, Nora applies for a scholarship to the exclusive private school across town. Thanks to her Latin professor father, who drilled Latin lessons on her for years, Nora impresses the private school board and achieves a scholarship. At last, she gets a slight break from the oppressive grief. No one knows her or her brother at the private school; she finally can be invisible.
"THE BOOK OF BLOOD AND SHADOW is a wild ride, sort of comparable to a teenage mix of Indiana Jones and THE DA VINCI CODE, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see it win multiple awards."
However, she runs into Chris, an old classmate who transferred to the school earlier. He remembers Nora and her now-dead brother, but to his credit, he keeps her secret, and they become the best of friends. She even gains a boyfriend through Chris’ roommate, Max. Later, all three join a special, extra credit project assisting a professor trying to decode an ancient book written in Latin. Nora gets stuck translating letters found written by the author’s daughter, Elizabeth, a relatively menial task compared to translating the book itself. But Nora finds herself bonding with this girl from the 17th century, and then she stumbles upon some clues left hidden in her letters. It turns out the letters are the key to the entire mystery --- and people are willing to kill for it.
Shockingly enough, Chris is murdered and Max disappears. Adriane witnesses the death of her boyfriend, but is drugged and doesn’t remember anything. Max is the main suspect, and his disappearance doesn’t help him any. Nora doesn’t even know if he’s alive or dead. Then she receives a coded message from Max begging her to join him in Prague; he tells her he has some answers and needs her to help him clear his name. Nora and Adriane travel to Europe for the traditional senior class trip and then slip away into Prague. They land themselves in the middle of a 400-year-old mystery --- which includes instructions on building a machine to talk to God.
In the author’s acknowledgments, Robin Wasserman states, “Unlike Elizabeth, I am not a poet or anything close…” I must disagree. Maybe Wasserman isn’t a poet, per se, but she is definitely a genius of words and a master storyteller. She mixes in her intriguing mystery with some European and religious history, questions man’s inhumanity to other men, and delves into themes of forgiveness and faith. In addition, she includes secret codes and hidden messages, weaves in a bit of sizzling romance, and tosses in some mind-blowing twists and turns, making this an amazing recipe for one awesome book.
Nora is a very likable character but has a cast of deep and complicated co-stars, and Wasserman does an excellent job with the interrelationships. The Latin translations give it an ancient and foreign taste, as does the location of Prague. It is also worth noting that some chapters contain only a handful of sentences, which helps give the story its power and punch.
THE BOOK OF BLOOD AND SHADOW is a wild ride, sort of comparable to a teenage mix of Indiana Jones and THE DA VINCI CODE, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see it win multiple awards.
Reviewed by Chris Shanley-Dillman on June 1, 2012