Alchemy. Black magic. Good stuff.

Advance reviews compared Robin Wasserman’s The Book of Blood and Shadow to Donna Tartt’s The Secret History and Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, two books that I enjoyed, though Tartt’s is one I re-read every two or three years. Since high school, that world of Latin-loving, though murderous, students sweeps me into its already-solved mystery, and each time I read the book, I pretend that I don’t know the why and the where and the who; I just lose myself in her sentences and story. As for Brown’s Da Vinci Code, I enjoyed it, when I read it before it came out; after, when its success swelled, and when it was made into the movie into which it was made, I decided I wouldn’t re-read it. Though, if I’m being honest, I read its sequel and prequel. Neither lived up to the story of Da Vinci Code.

Blood and Shadow isn’t Wasserman’s first, and not only haven’t I read her earlier books, I  knew nothing about her, save this advance praise that intrigued me enough to try the book.

And yes, some of this book’s elements can be compared to these other books, but the world Wasserman has created is less Tartt and Brown and more Wasserman. And by a world Wasserman, I mean well-crafted and well-plotted and rendered in a way that paints, at least for me, a world I’d very much like to inhabit. But only as a passerby. Seems the inhabitants of this world end up dead or kind of crazy, and the ones who don’t die or who don’t end up kind of crazy end up dealing with two tribes of zealots, each convinced that theirs is the one way of looking at the Lumen Dei, a device that provides the user with a direct line to God.

If you believe in God, and if you believe that a device that is more than 400 years old can connect you with the divine.

The characters in Blood and Shadow do, or most of them do, and between learning about Prague’s history and the history of several real people, including the alchemist Edward Kelley and his stepdaughter, Elizabeth Weston, you can easily lose yourself in the search undertaken to figure out what, or who, is responsible for a series of attacks, including the murder of a college student.

Inside Blood and Shadow, you find codes and golems and mysterious languages and a girl I couldn’t help but picture as Krysten Ritter (from Veronica Mars, and, currently, The Bitch in Apartment 23). And you may even agree that the story, while complete, leaves open enough ways for Wasserman to return to these characters, sweeping them into another grand story of love and history and how we each choose, or not, to believe.

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