by Robin Wasserman
Knopf Books for Young Readers
April 10, 2012
Source: borrowed from the library
My take: It's hard to know what to call this book -- a literary mystery, a code-cracking thriller, a high stakes treasure hunt. It's all of those things in one. The Book of Blood and Shadow is intricately plotted, seamlessly blending past with present and fact with fiction.
Crypto-geeks and aspiring spies like me know that codes and encrypted messages date back to ancient times. The Voynich manuscript, believed to have been written in the fifteenth century, surfaced in 1912. Since then, amateur and professional cryptographers have tried --- and failed -- to crack its code.
I loved the way Robin Wasserman weaves real sixteenth-century figures (Emperor Rudoph II, alchemist Edward Kelley and his daughter) and real places into her story. I've never been to Prague, where a large part of the book takes place, and I loved the way that Wasserman drew on the city's rich history and landmarks to add historical detail and a strong sense of place. She also creates a truly creepy ancient secret society centered around black magic and alchemy. I can't say more without spoilers!
To that, add an intriguing cast of fictional kids. Nora is wary and prickly, making a great foil to nice-guy Chris. The book's blurb says that Max is Nora's "Prince Charming," but to me, the tangle of relationships in this book is way more complicated than that. Nora is secretly in love with Chris but dating Max. After Chris is murdered, his enigmatic cousin Eli appears, insisting on accompanying Nora and Adriane to Prague.
The Book of Blood and Shadow kept me spellbound until the last page. I've seen comparisons of this book to the DaVinci Code by Dan Brown. I enjoyed DaVinci Code as much as the next person, and I do see the similarities: scholars, secret societies, running for one's life.
As I was reading The Book of Blood and Shadow, my mind was going in more literary directions. I was reminded of:
But that's the way my mind works. Results may vary. Pick this book up if you like historical intrigue, treasure hunts, books about secret societies, great travelogues, heart-pounding suspense.