The Book of Blood and Shadow – Robin Wasserman
Pages: 465 (ARC)
Publisher: Atom (Little, Brown)
Release Date: 19th January 2012
Other Titles by this Author: Skinned, Crashed, Wired
From Amazon UK: 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.
The Book of Blood and Shadow is a complex and intriguing paranormal novel that has built up a lot of pre-publication anticipation.
I have to admit that I struggled with this novel at first. I was often lost and there were so many things to focus on that my, admittedly sporadic, attention wandered. There wasn’t anything that I instantly grabbed onto in the beginning as we already knew that Chris had died and so seemed to lessen the suspense of the beginning of the book. It was my curiosity that kept me reading The Book of Blood and Shadow.
Once I got used to not really knowing what was going on, I became fascinated by the idea of the Lumen Dei. It’s something that almost everyone thinks about at least once: what if you could get a mainline to God? Even for those not at all religious, it’s an intriguing idea and one that would spark serious controversy. For there to be a lost book that details how to build a machine to achieve this, is rather mind-blowing. And it got Nora, Max, Adriane and Chris into some major trouble.
Robin Wasserman writes a novel that is at once a traditional and unusual paranormal novel. Nora is incredibly lonely and suffering from grief which she is studiously denying; that’s pretty standard, but her brother’s death isn’t the forefront, in fact, it’s not really a part of the story very much. Then you have the relationship that developed between Nora and Max in the beginning of The Book of Blood and Shadow. It was soft, gentle and natural and rather unusual in the field of paranormal YA, and though it didn’t carry on in the same vein, its origins definitely made an impact.
Though I didn’t enjoy The Book of Blood and Shadow nearly as much as I wanted and expected to, I’m sure it’ll be a massive hit with fans of paranormal YA.
I’d now like to welcome Robin to So Many Books, So Little Time and thank her for taking the time to answer some of my questions.
1. Is there a specific time or place that you do your best writing in?
Much as it horrifies my teenage self, I’ve grown up to be a morning person, and I usually get my best writing done before noon. On a usual writing day, I’m up and out of the house around 9, and quickly settled into my favorite coffee shop (read: whichever neighborhood coffee shop I happen to be least sick of that week). I stay there until I’ve met my word count for the day, which sometimes takes only an hour…and other times, takes all day (and several cookies).
2. If you were only allowed to take three books to a desert island, what would they be? Why?
I actually have a whole shelf of books that I’ve read and re-read (because for a long time I owned very few books—I was raised on libraries, so buying books became a once-in-a-very-long-while treat). Which means I know which ones hold up best under re-reading. I would probably take my beat-up copy of Stephen King’s It, because I find it shockingly comforting (for a book about an evil clown, that is) and it always bolsters my spirits when I have to face down some kind of terrible challenge. Like, say, a lifetime in a tropical paradise. I’d also pack David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest, because although Wallace is one of my all time favorite authors, I still haven’t made it all the way through this book. (I’ve read the first hundred pages about a hundred times over the years.) I suspect I could keep reading this, and only this, for the rest of my life, and still not get out of it everything Wallace managed to cram in. Finally, I’d toss in Are We Alone, a children’s book by Ben Masselink about two kids trapped on a desert island. I read this over and over when I was growing up, and somehow lost track of not only the book, but the author and title—I’ve spent the last fifteen years hunting it down, and now that I have, I’m not about to let it out of my sight again. Plus, it contained very useful information about eating coconuts and killing poisonous snakes.
3. Is there a novel you wish you’d written? Why?
It’s a great question, and a strange one to answer, because while of course in theory I would love to be the author of any novel I respect, in practice, I’d hate to rob myself of the enjoyment of being a reader of most of those books. But every once in a while, something comes along that I desperately wish I’d done (or at least thought of) myself, and this year, that’s happened with two non-fiction books, both of them graphic novels, which is a genre it’s never occurred to me to try: Feynman, by Jim Ottaviani and Leland Myrick and Logicomix by Apostolos Doxiadis. The first tells the story of a scientist and the second of a philosopher, but both of them break down amazing, complicated ideas into a compulsively readable form and pair them with some remarkable art. The Feynman one in particular broke my heart, as I’m a huge history of science nerd (and Feynman is one of my favorites), and have long been searching for a palatable way to put that passion into a book without putting readers to sleep. Ottaviani and Myrick beat me to it, so brilliantly that I can’t even be jealous.
4. Quite a few foreign languages make their way in The Book of Blood and Shadow. Can you speak any of them?
I wish! I can read Hebrew and understand a few words of it (and there are no more than a few words of it in Blood and Shadow, so that hardly counts), but I’m afraid that to my regret, I never took any Latin. And despite having now visited Prague and having spent many, many, many hours studying my phrasebook, I wouldn’t even trust myself to say the words for “please” and “thank you” without sounding like an idiot. I speak (well…“speak,” in the sense that I can read and write a little and carry on a kindergarten-level conversation) French and German, so if there ever is a sequel, maybe I should think more carefully about where that one’s set…
5. Have you always been interested in alchemy?
Ever since freshman year of college, when I read Arthur Koestler’s The Sleepwalkers, I’ve been fascinated by the scientists and philosophers of the Renaissance and the way science, magic, philosophy, and religion mixed so freely in that period. And “mixing” isn’t even exactly the right word to use—it’s more that they were, in a sense, different parts of the same body of knowledge. It wasn’t just that you couldn’t draw clear boundaries between them, it’s that no one would have thought to make the effort. It was nearly impossible for me to imagine, but over the years I’ve had a lot of fun trying.
6. I imagine you had to do lots of research for The Book of Blood and Shadow. What was the most interesting thing you discovered?
Probably the fact that, according to the legend of Prague, the city was founded by a witch—a prophetess who chose the location based on a dream. For a time, she ruled the city, but she was eventually forced to give up power to a man—which led to a massive revolt among the women, who supposedly slaughtered hundreds of men before they were defeated. It was such a richly violent and mystical story, and really a case of fact perfectly matching up with fiction—I couldn’t have asked for a better founding mythology to use in the book I was planning to write.
7. In The Book of Blood and Shadow, you were essentially writing two different stories: Nora’s and Elizabeth’s. Did one end up capturing you more than the other?
Well, the bulk of the story really belongs to Nora, so I’ll admit that she’s a little closer to my heart (and it probably doesn’t hurt that her concerns are a lot more concrete and real to me than the troubles of a girl from the sixteenth century). But the thing about Elizabeth is that she’s a real historical figure: Elizabeth Jane Weston, who grew up to be one of the most famous female poets in history. Very little is known about her childhood and adolescence—other than the fact that she was the stepdaughter of the alchemist Edward Kelley and accompanied him to Prague—so of course everything that happens to her in the book is my invention. But writing about a real person was a strange thing for me—like Nora, I began to feel a real responsibility to Elizabeth, as if I was telling the truth about her after all, and owed it to her to get her story right.
8. Are you working on anything at the moment? Can you tell me anything about it?
I’ve started on a new project, which has me a little terrified, and not just because it’s a horror novel. All I can say about it at this point is that it’s big—lots of characters, lots of pages, lots of things happening—and at the moment, it seems a bit like an insurmountable monster of a project. But that’s often how books feel before they’re done. Writing a book is like building a scale model Taj Mahal out of toothpicks—if you pause to think about what you’re doing and whether you’ll manage to get it done, all is lost. Which is why when it comes to first drafts I just barrel through, eyes closed, hoping I make it to the end!
A big thank you to Atom for providing me with a review copy, organising the blog tour and setting up an interview with Robin.