Saturday, June 2, 2012

REVIEW: The Book of Blood and Shadow by Robin Wasserman

The Book of Blood and Shadow The Book of Blood and Shadow by Robin Wasserman
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

CAUTION: Long Review.

I decided to read The Book of Blood and Shadow (TBBS) because reviews described it as the YA of The Da Vinci Code (TDVC). I really liked TDVC so I thought TBBS would be exciting too.

It wasn't.

TBBS and TDVC were similar. I could definitely see why the comparison was made. They both have:
+ a death in the beginning
+ characters framed for crimes
+ characters traveling across Europe for answers
+ characters who know esoteric things
+ a mystery from history to solve
+ secret organizations seeking to silence our heroes
+ a convergent theme of science and religion
+ a betrayal for the ultimate twist
Yet unlike TDVC, TBBS had:
+ a slow pace
+ a lack of suspense
+ a stingy amount of action
+ a weak protagonist
+ a love square
+ an overload of betrayals
It was mildly dull.

The Writing

Passages in the book were bipolar. Sometime they were short and straight to the point, other times they were long and starving for paragraph indentations. In the latter, run-on sentences were the norm. I recall a paragraph where one sentence took up 90% of a 10-lines paragraph.

Moreover, the prose was exceedingly passive. When an action scene was happening, it took me a few seconds to realize there was action going on.

Basically, the book was more difficult to read than TDVC and it was a YA.

The Beginning

With under 120,000 words, the novel separated into four parts. The first chapter of the first part started as the blurb said: one character was dead, one catatonic, one missing. What a horrific and wonderful scene it was for a beginning. The first sentence was:
I should probably start with the blood.
Too bad she lied.

The story actually started with a long flashback that led up to the horrific scene. Part 1 took the readers into the past. Part 2 picked up after the horrific scene, taking the readers back to the present.

I was disappointed. I felt TBBS would have been a stronger story if it began with part 2 and part 1 was told as expositions.

The Characters

+++ Nora, the protagonist

Nora was every bit cliché of a YA protagonist: she was poor, she was plain, she was shy, she was smart. Best of all, she was the chosen one — the "vyvolená."

YA protagonists never have a happy family. Their family are either dead or estranged. In Nora's case it was both. Her brother was dead, her parents grief-stricken, and she estranged from her parents because they're too grief-stricken to care about her. To escape, Nora decided to go to a rich school on a scholarship.

There, Nora immediately caught the attention of the school's prince and princess. The two coolest kids in school soon became the new girl's first friends. The fact that it was the story's different take on the heroine's love interest and rival didn't lessen the cliché. What was prominent was how sudden the friendship occurred. Already, the story began to stretch the limit of its believability.

+++ Chris, love interest #1

He was Nora's love interest #1. She liked him and he liked her but they were incognizant of their feelings for each other. Chris became Adriane's boyfriend instead.

The romance between Chris and Nora should have been done away since nothing ever came out of it. It wasn't used to progress the story or anyone's character development. It only made Nora more Mary Sue-ish.

+++ Adriane, love rival

She was rich; she was pretty; she was popular — she was like Nora's opposite except Adriane was also smart. Adriane was everything Nora wished she could be. She was Nora's only female friend.

The thing that bothered me the most about Adriane was that it took the middle of the story for the reader to find out she was Japanese. I didn't understand why her ethnic background was developed like an afterthought. It almost felt like a lazy way of injecting PoC into a YA.

+++ Max, love interest #2

He was like the male version of Nora because he was shy, he was smart, and he was plain in comparison to Chris. Also like Nora, he never talked about his past. Since the story was told in 1st PoV from Nora's side, Nora wasn't a mysterious character to the reader whereas Max was.

Nora initially saw Max as Chris's creepy roommate because Max stared at her alot and rarely talked. Later, she became his girlfriend which surprised me. I think she only dated him because she need a distraction from thinking about Chris.

Adriane with Chris. Nora with Max. The group of four friends hooked up with each other. It was a bit puke-worthy.

+++ Eli, love interest #3.

He claimed to be Chris's cousin. Similar to love interest #2, love interest #3 was mysterious as well. Chris never mention any cousin and Nora couldn't seen any family resemblance in Eli.

Whereas Max stared at Nora, Eli stalked Nora. It would have been creepy except as Chris's cousin it was expected and sensible that Eli would follow Nora to get his answers. Nora was the only one who knew what happened and wasn't catatonic. Plus she had contact with Max, her boyfriend, the guy suspected of killing Chris.

After part 1, Eli took up Chris's role as the second boy in the group. Though Nora was officially with Max, she was more girlfriend-boyfriend with Eli than with Max. Though Nora never cheated, there was a distinct sentiment that Nora was Max's girlfriend in name.

I didn't understand why Nora just didn't breakup with Max and go be with Eli. Nothing was stopping her.

Ways The Story Sucked

+++ a weak protagonist

For a self-proclaimed smart girl, Nora was kinda stupid. First impressions are generally wrong but Nora's were accurate. The bad part was that she never thought much of them and ignored her instinct.

Nora never asked the questions that should have been asked in the beginning. Not until the obvious smacked her in the face that she finally asked.

+++ over-shadowy antagonists

There were two secret organizations (or cults to put it bluntly): the Hledaci (Seekers) and the Fidei Defensor (Defender of the Faith). The former wants the Lumen Dei while the latter wants to destroy it.

Though they were the ones who caused all the troubles, they never had a strong presence in the story. Specifically, they didn't feel nefarious as they should have been. The story focused too much on making the cults mysterious than dangerous, hence the lack of suspense.

+++ mystery still mysterious

Everyone wants the Lumen Dei but nobody knows what it does actually. Not even the cults themselves whose existence was all about this object of power. The Hledaci thinks it will bring people closer to God, while the Fidei Defensor thinks it will bring the Apocalypse to the world.

The only thing the two cults shared in belief was that Lumen Dei required Nora because she was the chosen one. But no one knows why exactly. Everything about the matter was based on hearsay and superstition.

The story never described exactly what Lumen Dei was or what it actually did or why Nora was necessary for its operation. This irritated me.

+++ betrayals overkill

TBBS overkilled with the betrayals. It was ridiculous. It showed a lack of creativity for making twist and turn. I desensitized after a few, and their continuous occurrences led me to think less of Nora.

+++ the ending sucked

Nora returned home and that was it. She was back to being lonely, and her family situation probably worsen by her disappearance. There wasn't even the consolation of the extra credit for the dang assignment that set her on the mystery because her professor was incapacitated and their work was stolen.

What pained me was how Nora chose to believe it was over when there was a slight possibility that it wasn't. She didn't learn anything, she didn't grow as a character, and she was back to using denial and avoidance as defense mechanisms.

What was the point of the story then? Oy.

In Conclusion

I rate TBBS 2-stars for it was okay. I recommend reading The Da Vinci Code or any book in that series instead. Even the worst book of that series was better than TBBS.

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