Nora is translating letters from centuries past which she feels a strange connection to. One night, someone comes for the letters and Nora finds one of her best friends dead, the other catatonic, and her boyfriend gone without a trace. The search for those who took her best friend and boyfriend takes Nora to Prague for a life-and-death struggle involving secret societies warring over a machine that may dominate the world, the missing piece of which may be her blood.
Original but carrying the feeling of being out of genre, the Book of Blood and Shadow is one that will throw seasoned YA readers for a surprise. It was intense and thrilling, unpredictable and unstoppable, but its themes were too dark, events too tragic, and entanglement with religion too sober, making it feel out of place in YA. I loved the characters, which were some of the most complex personalities with the most well-developed relationships I’ve encountered. The romance between two shy, bookish people who were slightly awkward, gradually falling in love with each other’s imperfections instead of instant attraction to perfection, captivated me. But the ending left me shaken rather than smiling, the tension between the characters left unresolved despite the primary plot coming to a conclusion.
The story starts with blood, murder, and a disappearance, grabbing the reader from the start and not letting go. The author then takes us back to the story leading up to all the events, which could have been dull done by many authors I’ve read, but because of the jarring start, the most mundane events are filled with tension and the expectation of an attack around the corner. This a technique many writers could learn from. Then there’s the terrifying journey: the escape, the chases, the ambushes, being alone in a foreign country and constantly stalked by the enemy. This is Dan Brown plus emotion and poignancy with every death and betrayal. It was just too dark for my taste. The ending was unlikely to be satisfying for those accustomed to YA resolutions.
Superbly developed down to how they liked their broccoli, the characters were the most complex and well-rounded I’ve encountered. The minority representation with a deliberate lack of stereotypes is commendable. The development of Nora’s romance with Max was perfect, ironically because Max is imperfect. Nora’s love for Max’s quirks developed into something much stronger, passionate, and more real than the insta-love with flawless heroes which purples so much of YA. However, I was utterly unsatisfied with the way it all ended between the two, as well as most of the other relationships in this book.
The setting and history are extremely well researched and the author is phenomenal at sucking readers into the world of Nora and to the dark streets of Prague at night. She certainly did her homework about the ancient societies, the location, and all the languages involved. However, I wasn’t a fan of the verbatim transcription of the letters Nora translated. Although containing a story of their own, they were lengthy and interrupted the otherwise non-stop action.
Advance review copy courtesy of publisher in exchange for honest review.