This cover art is a great example of the illustration/photo divide: until I actually opened a copy of The Book of Blood and Shadow, I assumed it was a middle grade novel. Because apparently, in my mind, illustration = middle grade, while photographs = YA. Weird, right?
Anyway, I was totally, totally wrong. The Book of Blood and Shadow is narrated by Nora Kane, high school senior and Latin scholar. And it was clear, from the very first page, that this wasn't a story geared towards the middle-grade audience:
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.
OH MY GOD, GUYS. The hype/chatter/squeefest is TOTALLY, TOTALLY ACCURATE AND DESERVED. Because The Book of Blood and Shadow is outstandingly excellent. Even after simply typing out that excerpt, I had to take a moment to calm down and stop flailing all over my keyboard.
There's murder and tragedy, betrayal and first love, alchemy and secret societies and religion and conspiracy and danger and on and on and on. All that, and it's imbued with a love of knowledge, curiosity, history, and truth. Nora's voice is immediately compelling, Elizabeth's letters are pitch-perfect and heartbreaking, and Robin Wasserman's writing is fabulously fabulous. Nora's connection to the long-dead Elizabeth Weston works on an intellectual level, an emotional level, and a personal level—it's so strong that as the book goes on, it starts to feel like a two-way connection.
The characters all feel real, Nora's perspective is both knowing (because she's telling the story after the fact) and unknowing (because she's not giving the reader more information than she had at the time). (<--Translation: there's foreshadowing, but she never tips her hand. It's never completely obvious how the story will end, but when the ending arrives, it'll feel right, and you'll realize exactly how Nora—and you—got there. ...if that makes any sense at all.)
The codes, the running around Europe, the centuries-old mystery, the conspiracies, secret societies, and existence of The One... all of these things will draw comparison to The Da Vinci Code. But The Book of Blood and Shadow isn't the YA equivalent of Dan Brown. Far from it. Robin Wasserman's prose and plotting, voice and characters all blow Dan Brown not only out of the water, but into space.
There. Have I expressed how much I loved this book?
Good. Now go and read it.
Book source: ILL through my library.