24 July 2012

Teen Tuesday: Common threads

Last week, on Stuff and Nonsense, I posted a review of Deborah Harkness' Shadow of Night, (read it here), about two 21st Century scholars in search of a medieval alchemical manuscript.  A few days later I picked up a young adult novel I got from the library, The Book of Blood and Shadow by Robin Wasserman. 

Wasserman's book is about Nora Kane, a scholarship student at Chapman Prep school, where she transfers after her older brother Andrew is killed when he crashes his car while driving drunk.  Trying to avoid talking about her brother, when asked by another student if she has any siblings, Nora responds that she is an only child. 

She's overheard by Chris Moore, who went to the same public middle school, and who remembers Andy and what happened to him.  Nora and Chris become close friends, and the following year after he graduates, he recommends her for a job translating a Latin text for a retired professor he calls "The Hoff", along with Chris and his roommate Max. 

Edward Kelley
At first, Nora feels slighted because Professor Hoffpauer assigns her to translate a collection of letters from a young Englishwoman named Elizabeth Weston to her brother John.  But eventually, she becomes more and more intrigued, and begins to identify with Elizabeth, who happens to be the stepdaughter of the infamous medieval alchemist Edward Kelley.  In order to avoid her perpetually mourning parents, she begins to spend more and more time in The Hoff's gloomy offices, alone or with the two young men, but most often just with Max.  Of course this leads to a romantic relationship between Nora and Max.

One evening, Nora arrives late to a planned movie night, to find Chris lying dead in a pool of blood, his girlfriend Adriane next to him in shock, and no sign of Max, who becomes the chief suspect in Chris's death. 

Certain that Max is innocent, Nora sets out to prove it.  She and Adriane and ends up traveling to Europe (although, unlike Diana and Matthew, they don't travel through time) in search of Max and possibly Elizabeth's final letter to her brother which may hold the key to finding the mysterious Voynich manuscript, long sought by scholars and cryptographers. 

While I was reading Wasserman's book, I was also reminded of Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly (2010), whose protagonist Andi spends a winter break in Paris and discovers the journal of Alexandrine, who lived during the French revolution (see my VOYA review here).

Although The Book of Blood and Shadow turns into something more resembling an Indiana Jones adventure than the others, it's still  compelling and extremely well-written.  Lovers of historical mysteries should definitely track it down!

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