Thursday 18 October 2018

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Review: The Book of Blood & Shadow by Robin Wasserman

The Book of Blood & Shadow by Robin WassermanThe Book of Blood & Shadow by Robin Wasserman (review copy) - It was like a nightmare, but there was no waking up.

When the night began, Nora had two best friends and a boyfriend she adored. When it ended, she had nothing but blood on her hands. Chris was dead. Adriane couldn’t speak. 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’s determined to follow the trail of blood, no matter where it leads. But Chris’s murder 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.
From Goodreads.

I was sent this ARC for free by Atom for the purposes of providing an honest review.

The Book of Blood and Shadow by Robin Wasserman wasn't the book I was expecting, but oh my god, was it incredible!

The daughter of a Latin professor, Nora is talked into translating Latin for college professor known as the Hoff by her best friend, Chris, who is one of the Hoff's archival assistants, for extra credit in her senior year. The Hoff is obsessed with the Voynich Manuscript, a book written in code seven hundred years ago that no-one has ever been able to figure out. The Hoff believes Edward Kelley, personal alchemist to the Emperor managed to solve the book, and so has Chris and Max - Chris' room mate, and later, Nora's boyfriend - into translating Kelley's letters, while giving Nora the letters of his step-daughter, Elizabeth Weston, written to her brother, which he thinks will hold no import, but nevertheless wants them translated, just in case. Annoyed that she has been given this menial task, either because she's a girl or because she's a high school student rather than in college, Nora translates Elizabeth's letters anyway, needing the extra credit. Nora soon becomes quite attached to Elizabeth, finding much about her she can relate to, and soon she's translating the letters more for herself than for the Hoff and extra credit. But Elizabeth's letters contain more than the Hoff bargained for. They contain information that lead to Chris' death, Adriane - Chris' girlfriend and Nora's other best friend - drugged and trapped inside her own head, and Max missing. Everyone believes Max to be the murderer, but Nora knows that just can't be true. It's to do with Elizabeth's letters, and following the clues written four hundred years ago, Nora discovers dangerous secrets that lead to a mystery that some will do anything to to know the answer to. But solving the mystery herself may be the only way she can prove Max's innocence, and save her own life.

So originally, with the title and the cover, and the hints in the description, I thought this story was going to be a witchy, paranormal, dangerous kind of mystery that was perfect for reading in October with the lead up to Halloween. What I got is something completely different, but unbelievable. This book is absolutely amazing! It's like a YA The Da Vinci Code - I haven't read the book, as I've heard it's not great, but I have seen the movie, and they're the same kind of puzzling mystery. The Book of Blood and Shadow is complex, intricate, and so, so clever! I was gripped from the very beginning, and have been reading every spare moment I've had. This book is unlike anything I've read before.

The summary I've written above barely scratches the surface. We know from the very beginning that Chris is dead, but as Nora tells us, that's not the beginning of the story, but the middle, and she goes back to tell us about their friendship, about working for the Hoff, and about Elizabeth's letters. The story is completely fictional, except for the fact that it's steeped in so much real history. Edward Kelley was a real alchemist. Elizabeth Weston was his step-daughter, who was affected by the man she thought of as her father's mysterious death in prisoner. Most of the characters she comes into contact with, as we read in her letters, were real people, with one who was inspired by another real historical person, and, I think, two who were fictional. There is so much about this story that is real, that it makes all the fictional elements that much more credible. But it's not just real historical people, it's also real historical locations. The mystery - that is so complicated and involved I can't really talk about much of the plot without spoiling it massively - takes Nora to Prague, and to real locations where real historical events took place. Real history is woven so seamlessly into this story, it's almost a retelling. Elizabeth Weston and her actual life play such a huge role in this book, and Wasserman has used artistic license to give reasons and motivations for aspects of Elizabeth's actions and experiences. It's just so bloody clever! Even the Voynich Manuscript is real!

I also love that what is at the heart of this book is faith. It involves religious fanatics, and Elizabeth's own faith, even the faith of those around Nora, and yet Nora herself is a Jewish atheist - one of her parents is a lapsed Jew, and her grandmother took her to Synagogue as a child, and she knows some Hebrew, but she herself, now, doesn't believe in God. But everything that happens is to do with other people's faith and their beliefs - though not religion specifically - and it was so interesting and fascinating watching Nora trying to work out and puzzle through something others believe in, that she, as an atheist, completely disregards - because come on! - yet has to follow the faith of others, mainly Elizabeth, put into things in order to figure things out. I think it was really interesting to have our protagonist of the main story being an atheist following Elizabeth who was a devout believer. I think it would have made a huge difference if Nora had some faith, it would definitely colour her thinking when she hears what she hears and when she discovers what she discovers. It's her lack of belief, and therefore her lack of interest - because, as she believes, this thing is ridiculous - that makes this story what it is. And you see in those around her, who do believe in God, how they think about the discoveries made. But it's the fanatics who believe and whose belief is dangerous, and why Nora must solve things before they do.

I would absolutely love to talk about the cast of characters, but it would be difficult to do so, as my thoughts and feelings about them changed over the course of the novel due to their actions in the certain situations and circumstances they find themselves in. My feelings changed, whether majorly or in degrees, about absolutely everyone Nora knew. There were two characters I had pegged early on; one, because I, personally, simply didn't like them, no matter what Nora was telling us, and it had nothing to do with the story or the plot, I just didn't like this character, and my dislike became distrust which evolved into suspicion very, very early one. And the other I knew from the first time I "laid eyes" on them - not that it was necessarily obvious early on, but was more instinctual. However, having guessed or worked out certain things about people early on, the story itself I never had any idea where it was going. No clue. Which was what made the story so captivating; I didn't know what was going to happen next, let alone in several chapters time, or as a conclusion. I never knew what to expect and it was completely unpredictable, and I absolutely loved it!

With hindsight and looking back over the whole story, I do think there are some people who may think The Book of Blood and Shadow is a bit slow, or perhaps too long. When I think about what happened in the last third of the book in comparison to the first two thirds, I do think people may potentially have an issue with the story over all once they have finished. But for me, the story is like a blooming flower, whose outer petals have to open before any of the others can, each taking it's turn - that's how the story unfolds. All of the story is needed, and the whole story is gripping; I was captivated from the very first page, but I became more and more captivated as the story progressed.

I absolutely loved The Book of Blood and Shadow, and that ending! I know I said I didn't know what to expect, but I really wasn't expecting that! And I have my own thoughts and theories about it all, that I sadly can't discuss. But this story is just incredible, and I most definitely want to read more like it. Mate, this book should be made into a movie! The Book of Blood and Shadow is an absolutely incredible read, and I can't recommend it enough!

Thank you to Atom for the review copy.

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Published: 19th January 2012
Publisher: Atom
Robin Wasserman's Website

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