Annotation: As part of a senior project, Nora Kane and her best friend Chris are working with the eccentric Professor Hoffpauer to decipher a centuries old manuscript written in code. After Chris is murdered, however, Nora realizes that the book has begun a dangerous series of events and finds herself in Prague, on the run from an ancient society and looking for the truth about a mysterious device known as the Lumen Dei.
Personal thoughts: I am a big fan of stories like The DaVinci Code that offer a mix of mystery, adventure and history, so I found a lot to enjoy in The Book of Blood and Shadow. The twists and turns in Nora’s quest to discover the truth about the Lumen Dei always kept me on my toes, and I found myself genuinely surprised by some of the events in the story. I did find the novel to be a bit complicated at times and it had a slow start, so I would recommend it to readers who aren’t discouraged if the action doesn’t happen on the first page. For teens who want something that is going to make them think and keep them on the edge of their seat, however, this is easy to recommend!
Plot summary: After the death of her older brother years earlier, seventeen-year-old Nora Kane didn’t think she’d ever be able to be close with anyone again. After a scholarship lands her at the exclusive Chapman Prep, however, she meets Chris Moore and his girlfriend Adriane Ames, and the trio soon becomes inseparable. At the beginning of Nora’s senior year, and Chris’ first year at a local university, Nora is invited to do a special project and, along with Chris and his roommate Max, assist the eccentric Professor Hoffpauer in deciphering a centuries old book written in a mysterious code. Nora’s job is to translate the letters of Elizabeth Weston, a woman who lived in Prague at the end of the 16th century whose father was thought to have cracked the book’s code. As they spend more and more time together, Nora finds herself falling for the soft spoken Max and, for the first time since her brother’s death, she is happy. Everything changes, however, when Chris is brutally murdered. Adriane, who witnesses the murder, is catatonic and Max, who the police suspect killed Chris, is nowhere to be found. Nora soon realizes that it is the book, and the information it contains, that have caused her and her friends to be drawn into a dangerous conflict that has been raging for centuries. Determined to discover the truth about the book and save Max, Nora finds herself in Prague, on the hunt for answers about a mysterious machine known as the Lumen Dei and the ancient society that will stop at nothing to protect it.
Review: Fans of Dan Brown’s The DaVinci Code or films like National Treasure or Indiana Jones will find much to enjoy in veteran author Robin Wasserman’s latest novel, The Book of Blood and Shadow. Although it is complicated and the plot takes a bit of time to really get moving, readers who are willing to stick with the book will discover a story full of twists and turns that combines adventure, danger, religion and history. What makes The Book of Blood and Shadow more complex that most novels for young adults, but ultimately rewarding, is that the author devotes some serious time into developing the characters. Nora in particular is very fleshed out with a great deal of attention given to the backstory of her brother’s death. Her friends are also written with a lot of detail, making it all the more intriguing when the story shifts and Nora begins to discover that what she thought she knew about them might not be true. The historical and geographical aspects of the novel are also well-written, and readers can expect to learn quite a bit about the city of Prague. It is difficult to describe the events of the plot without giving too much away, but suffice it to say that the story keeps the reader guessing at every turn. A good choice for teen readers who want something full of adventure.
Reading level: Grade 8+
Similar titles: The DaVinci Code novels by Dan Brown.
Themes: Mystery, secret societies, Prague, danger, friendship, loss, betrayal.
Awards/Reviews: Starred review from Publishers Weekly, positive reviews from Kirkus and The Horn Book Magazine.
Series Information: N/A
Discussion questions:- How did the death of Nora’s older brother impact the events of the story?
- Do you think Nora felt a connection with Elizabeth Weston? Is it possible to have a friendship or understanding with someone from the past? Why or why not?
- Should Nora have taken Elizabeth’s letter?
- Was going to Prague the right thing to do?
- What was the biggest surprise or plot twist for you while reading the novel?
- Did you learn anything about Prague and its history by reading the novel?