Author: Robin Wasserman
Publication Date: 4/10/12
Publisher: Random House Children's Books
Blurb(GR): It was like a nightmare, but there was no waking up. When the night began, Nora had two best friends and an embarrassingly storybook one true love. When it ended, she had nothing but blood on her hands and an echoing scream that stopped only when the tranquilizers pierced her veins and left her in the merciful dark.
But the next morning, it was all still true: Chris was dead. His girlfriend Adriane, Nora's best friend, was catatonic. And Max, Nora's sweet, smart, soft-spoken Prince Charming, was gone. He was also—according to the police, according to her parents, according to everyone—a murderer.
Desperate to prove his innocence, Nora follows the trail of blood, no matter where it leads. It ultimately brings her to the ancient streets of Prague, where she is drawn into a dark web of secret societies and shadowy conspirators, all driven by a mad desire to possess something that might not even exist. For buried in a centuries-old manuscript is the secret to ultimate knowledge and communion with the divine; it is said that he who controls the Lumen Dei controls the world. Unbeknownst to her, Nora now holds the crucial key to unlocking its secrets. Her night of blood is just one piece in a puzzle that spans continents and centuries. Solving it may be the only way she can save her own life.
I really enjoyed the beginning of this book. It’s tense and exhilarating and I felt immediately drawn into the story. As it opens, the main character Nora is reeling in the aftermath of the gruesome murder of her best friend Chris. And then we are immediately thrown back into the past, where we get to see just how amazing and complicated Nora's relationship with Chris really was. Instant grief! Instant Intrigue!
There’s also a very nice romance between Nora and the quiet, nerdy Max that’s neither simple nor easy.
“Max, on the other hand, was hard. Convoluted and cloudy, full of things I wasn’t supposed to ask and places I knew better than to go. With Max, I didn’t have to pretend.”
Now that’s what I’m talking about.
Nora is a sympathetic, down to earth voice of reason, even as the plot of this book becomes more and more farfetched. She’s funny and dry, but she has a lot of understandably tender areas. Her grief is dealt with beautifully and never feels superficial.
“I had a copy of the photo tacked to the wall by my bed, and I had to leave it there, because it was a piece of him. That’s what death did – it turned trash into talismans. A CD he’d burned, a notebook he’d doodled in, a sweatshirt he’d worn: holy relics.”
The mysteries, while creepy and compelling to begin with, soon become convoluted and silly. The historical mystery centers on a manuscript that’s been studied and obsessed over for centuries by various scholars and fanatics, who have all failed to decipher it. Enter Nora, with her minor fluency in Latin, and a small group of undergrads and voilà!, suddenly it’s all being solved. Granted, there is an attempt to explain this later with a little “The Matrix”-type logic. But it’s still incredibly hard to believe.
The clues themselves are “hidden” in locations that it’s impossible to believe would remain undisturbed for centuries. For example, the first clue has been sewn into the lining of one of the obsessed-over books. Really? No one ever thought to x-ray the book or examine it further? It takes Nora about two minutes to dig it out. They’ve all also been conveniently left behind in parts of the world left untouched by development – so mass disasters, wars, new construction, and even just every day wear and tear are not issues. They are in code. Nora’s up-until-then completely absent Dad pops in randomly to solve the first one, and then fades back into non-existence. The codes are something like this:
In the third hour of the third day of the third year of the new millennium, I wrote this poem. THIRD.
I LIVE HERE IN A SPRAY TAN BOX OF ION SKIES.
Whoever solves this wins a prize!*
So, okay maybe Nora's codes are also in Latin. But still...would something like that really stump scholars for centuries? And there are so many other absurdities in this story. I mean, just as a hypothetical scenario...which may or may not have anything to do with this book…
If your best friend were murdered, and it turned out that a mysterious group of fanatical killers were to blame; if they were coming after you next; if the thing they wanted most was a dangerous, powerful machine…do you think the best option would be to track down every element of said machine for them and hand it over for their use in the tiny, foolish hope that they’d leave you alone after that? Just because it worked in Mission:Impossible doesn’t make it a good idea.
And in a related and equally hypothetical scenario…
If a boy arrived out of the blue, claiming to be the cousin of your best friend (even you admit that they look nothing alike); if that boy started showing up wherever you were – at your dorm room, at your brother’s grave, on your school trip…TO FRANCE; if you caught him in obvious lies several times; if he were conveniently fluent in several obscure languages and could beat off six armed men with a knife…would you trust this boy? With your life? Admittedly, he does have a “strange comfort in his voice”, so you know.
There are a few interesting questions raised by this book about faith vs. knowledge – Is it better to believe something without evidence or to demand proof? But none of them are really explored any further than the initial asking. The ending is confusing and frenetic, with “twists” that I saw coming a mile away and a bunch of loose ends that feel ham-fistedly tied together into sloppy knots. I really wonder if this was initially planned as a series, and then hastily converted into a stand-alone.
Perfect Musical Pairing
Underworld – Born Slippy
*The prize is knowing that you’re a smarty pants!!