Killing Me Slowly

A leopardess who learned how to dance. And read.
The Book of Blood and Shadow - Robin Wasserman My experience reading The Book of Blood and Shadow - "BoBS" from here on because that's a long-ass title to keep typing out - was pretty much my experience reading The Immortal Rules, but in reverse. I was mesmerized by BoBS from page one. The writing was lovely, the characters engaging yet flawed, the relationships complex, and the premise intriguing. I was prepared to build this book a shrine in my basement and sacrifice my firstborn on its alter.

Then I got to Part Two. And my infatuation began to wane.

But let's focus on Part One first, because I very much enjoyed it. Browsing GR, I've read complaints about a "slow start", but for me, the "slow start" was exactly what drew me in. I loved that the book began with a glimpse of our heroine, Nora, and her friends' "now" - something bad has happened, but we aren't told exactly what it is. We know someone's dead, and roughly who is involved, but Nora is vague about the details, and puts a kibosh on progression before we can learn any more. We have to know more about them, she says, they have to mean something to us before we can go further in the story. So she takes us back to the beginning, to her recollection of before, so that we get to know the people that this story will eventually be about.

It's a smart move. I loved everything about this prologue. The execution is stellar - we're given something to look forward to, while at the same time having our anticipation heightened by being denied full access. This is what a good prologue should do, dammit, and I was happy to see it used to great effect. What's more, I loved the rationalization - Wasserman is showing us what's up, what's important, and I was pleased to see that she seemed to give a shit about whether or not we cared about the characters.

After recalling her first meeting with best friends and supporting characters Chris and Adriane - that, in one scene, gives us a good sense of both the characters and their relationship dynamics - we skip to where the events that directly lead to the prologue began: with Nora's involvement in a project to help translate an untranslatable book.

Words cannot express how much this premise intrigued me. I mean, an untranslatable book with a mysterious history that people had tried for years to crack? FUCK YEAH, I'll take me some of that, please and thank you. It only got better with the addition of a secondary narrative that chronicled the early history of the book and its contents, in the form of centuries-old letters that Nora's been tasked with translating. Bit-by-bit, we gather more and more information about the book - what it is, what it's about, and what it could lead to - all the while getting to know the characters and watching their relationships develop.

This, to me, is how it should be done. It seems like these days most books I read are plot-based - the emphasis is on what's happening, and less about who it's happening to. Wasserman does a better job balancing that here, making the "who" the focus of Part One, but inextricably tying it to the "what". So we get great scenes where our heroine translates her plot-relevant letters while simultaneously developing the relationship with her love interest, or her friends, or herself. It was a breath of fresh air. I actually came to care about these characters, and to understand the nature of their relationships with one another - or at least, the heroine's perception of them, which is something that factors into the book later on.

I was similarly enamored of Wasserman's writing through Part One. It flowed very nicely, seamlessly integrating Nora's thoughts and memories with the translations of Elizabeth's letters, and her recollection of the events leading up to the prologue. The writing in Part One set a dark, tense mood, and even the lighthearted scenes of teenage fun and young love were tinged with loss. You don't just know, but you feel that what you're reading is meant to be bittersweet, and this makes the book all the more emotionally involving and engrossing.

Then we got to Part Two.

Part One ends with the Event described in the prologue - Part Two is where the story proper kicks off, which in essence makes the entirety of Part One a very well-executed, extended prologue itself. Part Two is where we start getting answers, and the vague outlines of our moody mystery begin to solidify into a more action-oriented scavenger hunt, a'la The Da Vinci Code.

That comparison has been thrown around a lot, but it really is fairly accurate...

Continue reading review at You're Killing.Us.

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