Thursday, July 19, 2012

REVIEW: The Book of Blood and Shadows

Wasserman, R.  (2012).  The Book of Blood and Shadow.  New York:  Knopf.

434 pages.

Appetizer:  To beef up her resume for college, Nora Kane, along with her best friends Chris, Adriane and Chris's kinda creepy roommate Max, are working as a research assistant for a professor.  They're studying The Book, the Voynich Manuscript, an ancient and mysterious text in Latin that the professor organizing their research has rested his career upon.  Nora's job is to translate letter's of a girl named Elizabeth Weston, the step-daughter of an alchemist who may have authored The Book.

As Nora works to translate Elizabeth's letters, she feels connected to her and reconsiders some aspects of her own life (like how Chris's roommate, Max, may not be as odd as she first thought).  As Nora makes strides in her work, events take a dark turn.   Some get hurt, others die and it falls to Nora to find a way to save the survivors and herself all while someone is following her.

But that may not be the beginning of her story.  Her life is also divided around her older brother Andy's death in a car accident.  He'd been drunk when he'd crashed, killing himself and a girl.  These events have left Nora's parents despondent and haven't exactly won her a lot of friends at Chapman Prep in Massachusetts.

As for her end?  Well, that might be in Europe.  Her friends had planned a wonderful adventure to  France, but Nora may be the only one able to go.  Instead of a fun spring break, she must go to Prague to solve the mystery of what happened to her friends and how it all connects to The Book that seems to have ruined so many lives.

The writing of The Book of Blood and Shadow is wonderful.  The opening did a great job of catching my attention and curiosity.  Wasserman used a lot of rich and beautiful language. (Although, having said that, I also wouldn't have minded if the novel had been 50-60 pages shorter.)

But still, love.

I approve.

Read it.

It made me feel as though I needed to improve the writing in some of my own manuscripts.  This is a compliment to Wasserman, although, it's a little sad for my own writing journey.

This is by no means a perfect text.  Some of Elizabeth Weston's letters were a little long, confusing or were a little too conveniently found.  Also, two or three twists or reveals of characters' secrets were on the obvious side.  But I liked the continuing uncertainty about who Nora could trust as well as her connection to someone in history.

Read The Book of Blood and Shadow and then let me know what you think!

Dinner Conversation:

"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 or 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 center of gravity around which we all spiraled, but none of us could see." (p. 3)

"Until the September I turned fifteen--the September I enrolled in Chapman Prep--my life could be divided pretty neatly into two eras.  Before Dead Brother; After Dead Brother.  BDB, I was the youngest in a family of four, father a Latin professor, mother a part-time bookstore manager, both of them teetering on the edge of divorce but sticking together, in that noble tradition of post-boomer bourgeoisie, for the kids.  ADB, there were still four of us, it was just that one--the only one anyone cared about anymore--happened to be dead." (p. 9)

"I told myself I deserved some good luck, overlooking the fact that it would call for substantially more than luck to thrust me into one of those narratives where plain-Jane new girl catches the eye of inexplicably single Prince Charming, because somehow the new school has revealed her wild, irresistible beauty, of which she was never before aware.
Spoiler alert:  Chris had a girlfriend.  An endless string of them, in fact." (pp. 13-14)

"Chris and I got Adriane through advanced Latin, Adriane and I got Chris through remedial chem, the two fo them got me through the new-girl phase with a minimum of muss and fuss, and for two years we were, if no happier than the average high school student juggling APs and SATs and extracurriculars and defective parents, at least not miserable, and not alone.  Then Chris went to college (albiet, via the path of least resistance, down the street), I found Max, we all found the Book, and everything went to hell." (p. 17)

"I have been here before.
I have done this before.
There were flashing lights, before.  Sirens screaming.  Someone screaming.
There was blood, before, blood on the road, blood I imagined and blood I saw, blood that shimmered under streetlights as we sped by, tires crunching over broken glass, my father grim and pale behind the wheel, my mother with one hand cupped to her ear, like she was still hearing, or trying not to hear, the call that had summoned us from before to now, to after." (p. 105)

Tasty Rating:  !!!!!

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