Review: The Book of Blood and Shadow, Robin Wasserman

I have a weird, specific pet peeve which is that Latin should sound like Latin. There is a way that translated Latin sounds, and if you’re writing something that’s supposed to be an English translation of a Latin manuscript, it should sound like it was Latin before it was English. I get antsy reading something that’s supposed to be a translation of Latin, and thinking, Wait, how would that go in Latin? Wouldn’t there sometimes be some ablative absolutes? Wouldn’t a lot of those words have been left out because that would all get conveyed by the way the nouns are declined?

These are real questions and you should feel free to see in them my deep regret that I stopped taking Latin after high school. I loved Latin! I have no idea why I was so hell-bent on getting a degree in English when I could have gotten one in classical studies and taken cooler classes and hung out with cooler people. (This is not a referendum on English majors or classics programs everywhere. I’m talking about my university only.) And then I could have said with authority that a protagonist in flight from the terror behind would just translate it as “Philosophers and mathematicians ask how the universe is arranged” because that’s what the straight translation would be and she would be much too frightened to start getting cute with appositives.

(Sometimes when I wasn’t crazy about a book I take a really long time to start talking about it in the blog post I am writing about it. I know that’s a thing I do.)

The Book of Blood and Shadow is about a girl called Nora who’s working on a translation project with her best friend Chris and her boyfriend Max, and it turns out the book they’re translating is of The Greatest Significance to History, so much so that people would kill for it. So one day Nora comes over to Chris’s and finds him dead and his girlfriend in a state of catatonia, and Max has vanished and is under suspicion of murder. Nora knows that he did not do it and embarks on a journey across Europe to clear his name by translating important letters that uncover a conspiracy stretching across space and time.

I’m not sure it’s worthwhile to rehearse the manifold sillinesses of a book like this. It’s a Dan Browny sort of thing where religion and history are involved, and everyone wants to find a MacGuffin and destroy it or release it upon the world. Nora could go to the police but she never does because they wouldn’t believe her (of course), and she thinks that her getting more involved in the MacGuffin hunt will convince the crazed killers to leave her alone. She has information they will kill to get their hands on/destroy, but she does not Xerox her original manuscript copy of the information and distribute it on street corners so that her possessing it will cease to be of specific interest to the crazed killers. There are so many things a sensible person would do that Nora does not do! Once she and her friends get to Prague they are always splitting up (despite the ongoing threat of crazed killers) and I felt like that part in Cabin in the Woods where they suggest splitting up and the stoner guy is like, “…Really?”

What I’m doing right now is complaining about the silly aspects of a book I read because I wanted to read something silly and fast-paced. I can do that. I am capricious that way. Besides, there are fast-paced books in this world where the protagonists at least try to go to the police. Or at least where they do not withhold from the police key pieces of evidence and send each other cryptic coded graveyard messages when it would be much much easier to get a burner phone and call from that.

Many other reviews exist. I was not early to this party.

14 thoughts on “Review: The Book of Blood and Shadow, Robin Wasserman

  1. In the abstract, I have more respect for Classics majors than for English majors, because I think about the old days, when people studied the Classics and we were all expected to read literature for fun. In my everyday contacts with members of the Classics department at a selective liberal arts college, however, I note that they tend to be, well, pedants. And that can make all the difference.

    • Hm. Noted. Well, I went to a public university, not liberal artsy at all, so I think we had a very different crop of classics majors. I could be wrong, and just doing that thing where the grass is greener on the other side, but they always seemed cool and interesting to me.

  2. You should go be friends with Julie from Contractually Obligated to Like Books. Then you two can go and chortle about Latin translations together.

    Robin Wasserman is in that set of YA authors who’re all BFFs, and since they all seem like nice people I want their books to be awesome. But I guess….I mean, it’s YA. So…yeah.

    • I do not know Julie from Contractually Obligated to Like Books but I shall get right on making her acquaintance.

      I always want YA authors’ books to be awesome so I can prove my point to everyone about how YA is just as good as adult literature. It’s an unfair standard because when adult books are bad nobody says “See! Adult books are trash!” Who else is Robin Wasserman BFF with? Like Maureen Johnson and those ones?

  3. It sounds like this was one of the more wearying books that you have read in a long time, and I agree that Latin should sound like Latin. I sort of hate Dan Brown, so if this book is anything like his, the chances that I will like it are very slim.

  4. I wouldn’t say it’s a peeve of mine, but I understand what you mean. I read Utopia and it sounded like contemporary literature, which was awesome for comprehension but not very Tudor-like. I like that you wrote it, it gives a good background context to your opinions of the book. I haven’t read the book, but I love your review!

    • Thanks! Utopia the Thomas More book? I feel like I read that a looooong time ago. It was…less interesting than I was hoping. I wanted his Utopia to have all kinds of cracked-out rules, and it sort of didn’t.

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