Monday, April 23, 2012

Making Latin Translation Sexy & Scary Again: The Book of Blood & Shadow by Robin Wasserman

"I should probably start with the blood." After all, there was so much blood on the night that Nora's suddenly perfect life crumbled and twisted into a nightmare.  Before that night, Nora had two best friends.  She had a fresh new storybook romance of her own.  She was working on a senior year independent Latin project at the local college with a quirky professor and one of her best friends, Chris, now a college freshmen.  Everything in Nora's life was finally falling into place.  Now Chris is dead and  his girlfriend and Nora's other best friend Adrienne has withdrawn into a state of catatonic shock.  Max, Chris'  sweet and nerdy roommate and Nora's new boyfriend, has disappeared and the police are convinced that he's the killer.

Determined to prove that Max is innocent, Nora begin to immerse herself in the strange occurrences and cryptic clues surrounding the Book of Blood and Shadow--the mysterious manuscript at the center of their shared research project.  Nora's search for the truth leads her deep into a dark world of ancient secrets spanning centuries of bloodshed and terror as she traces the clues hidden in another desperate young woman's centuries old letters across the ocean and into the twisting street of Prague.

This new novel has been described as the YA Da Vinci Code and rightfully so.  Full of mysterious documents, hidden history, elaborate codes, secret societies, and thrills & chills galore, The Book of Blood and Shadow has all the necessary pieces for an excellent intellectual thriller.  However, Wasserman goes several steps further than just gathering all the pieces;  she's combined those pieces with interesting characters, rich description, and elegantly built suspense.  It has all the compulsive readability of The Da Vinci Code but with better writing and more sexy, on the spot Latin translation.  Nora is a smart, sarcastic, and fierce narrator.  Her relationships with Chris, Adrienne, and Max are complex; she consistently keeps an emotional distance from both Chris and Adrienne yet remains intensely loyal and somewhat dependent on their threesome's stability--especially after Chris' murder.  Her romance with Max is sweet and thrilling, which makes the confusing web of revelations about him and his potential involvement in the Book's mysteries even more emotionally fraught. Elizabeth Weston, the stepdaughter of a medieval alchemist who devoted his life to decoded the mysteries within the Book, emerges as an equally fascinating character through Nora's revelatory translation of her letters.

I was immediately drawn into the story, both by the appealingly human characters and the ever increasing mystery.  The plot was full of twists and turns that kept me guessing right up to the final page.  I would heartily recommend The Book of Blood and Shadow to readers of intellectual thrillers and mysteries (such as The Da Vinci Code), especially Latin students and Indiana Jones fans.  

4/5 STARS

*review written based on an advanced e-galley obtained from the publisher via Netgalley

Friday, April 20, 2012

Space Age Cinderella: Cinder by Marissa Meyer

Once upon a time, in a distant future where Earth's borders and technologies have shifted after a devastating Fourth World War, a young orphaned cyborg named Cinder trudges through life trapped under the thumb of her unkind stepmother.  Cinder, who holds a lesser place in society because her human body has been augmented with robotic parts, happens to be one of the best mechanics in New Beijing but she never expected that her reputation would lead the handsome heir to the throne,  Prince Kai, to visit her booth at the market and ask for her help fixing a broken android.  Then the mysterious and deadly plague sweeping the nation infects two very important people: Prince Kai's father, the emperor, and Cinder's beloved younger stepsister Peony.  Suddenly Cinder becomes intimately involved in the dangerous international and interplanetary struggle for power that forces her to dive into her unknown past and its connections to the plague and the entire future of the planet Earth.

I first came across this futuristic Cinderella retelling when I signed up for the 2012 Young Adult & Middle Grade Debut Authors Challenge and began browsing around the connected Goodreads list.   The premise alone was enough to get me interested: Cinderella is a cyborg with a dark past in a future Chinese-influenced empire? Sign me up!

Generally, Cinder lives up to its fun premise.  It combines popular sci-fi/futuristic fiction concepts (another world war, cyborgs, interplanetary/alien communication, unknown plagues, etc.) with the ever popular fairy or folk tale retelling.  The result is a fresh and enjoyable novel with broad appeal to a variety of readers.  The setting of New Beijing is unusual and absorbing, combining elements from different time periods and cultures in a way that fits into the version of the future Meyer has sketched out.  The traditional fairytale royal family and special ball seem a little out of place in a world where cyborgs and robots exist and the government is negotiating with a civilization from another planet but somehow it works.  Cinder is a lovely protagonist, determined and smart but also vulnerable and intensely aware of her subhuman status in society.  The mystery of the plague and its connections to Cinder and the extraterrestrial Lunars are full of exciting, if occasional predictable, twists and turns.  Overall, a delightful debut novel that will have all your fantasy, fairytale, and dystopian fans begging for the sequel!

3 STARS