Seriously, I had such high hopes for What’s Left of Me. The concept is great – everyone is born with two souls, but everyone – most everyone, anyway – eventually settles, with only one dominant soul left while the other fades away. For the past three years, Addie has been lying, letting the doctors and her parents believe that the soul she shared her body with, Eva, is gone – but Eva is still inside her, trapped. If anyone found out, they’d be locked away in an institution, never to leave again and lead a normal life.
Sounds awesome, right? Unfortunately, I did not connect with this book at all. I never got a feel for the characters beyond their roles in the plot, the plot itself beyond the interesting concept of hybrids was a paint-by-numbers dystopian that never surprised me, and – slight spoiler alert – evil vaccines? Seriously? Come on, there are already enough idiots that believe vaccines are giving our children autism or whatever. Vaccines killing off souls too? Um, nice message, I guess. Except ew.
There was never any real urgency to the plot, either. I never felt Addie and Eva’s fear of being found out to be hybrid, and later, never felt the urgency to get out of the facility they were trapped in. There was, to this reader, no real danger, or risks taken in having bad things actually happen to people the reader is told to care about. “Oh no this bad thing might happen at some point” is nothing compared to actual, real fear for the characters’ lives or souls, and there was none of that present in this novel.
Just… meh. I wanted to like What’s Left of Me so badly, but there was just nothing in it for me.
The Book of Blood and Shadow is nowhere near a perfect book, or even one with much literary merit. It’s a 400-plus page popcorn flick. It’s like National Treasure with teenage protagonists – IN
SPACE PRAGUE. And it was so. much. FUN. This is exactly what I want in an adventure – gorgeous foreign setting, fast-moving plot, and a mystery to solve that spans centuries.
Admittedly, it does take the book a while to get going. The opening slaps you in the face with the fact that awful things are going to happen to the characters, and tells you exactly which – and then you’re pulled back in time to the beginning, before things went bad, for chapters and chapters of getting to know these characters, learning about the protagonist Nora’s family and her relationships with the other major players of this early segment of the book: her best friend, Chris; his girlfriend and “by the transitive property of social addition,” now Nora’s friend, Adriane; and Chris’s college roommate and, in no time at all, Nora’s boyfriend, Max. Nora, Max, and Chris are all working on the same archival project together with a noted historian, translating an alchemist’s letters that he believes may help them crack the Voynich manuscript. Nora, relegated to translating the letters of the alchemist’s daughter Elizabeth, begins to relate to her, and steals the letters for herself – but then an attempt is made on the life of the historian she works under, seemingly related to what is revealed in Elizabeth’s letters. And from there, everything spirals out of control.
This is a book about crazy-smart characters, which may turn some people off. Nora has been a Latin scholar since a very young age, and uses words like “rescinded” in casual conversation with her friends. She doesn’t talk or narrate like your average YA heroine, and some readers might find it pretentious – I personally found it fitting for the subject and tone of the book. After all, Nora’s entire quest for answers is based around translating Latin, solving riddles and cyphers, and generally using her wits to get to the truth. If she were a typical main character, all that would feel ridiculous – “this average teenage girl is solving these centuries-old mysteries?” But there was no need to suspend my disbelief that Nora, Max, and Eli were all more than capable of cracking the case, so to speak.
I can’t say much as to the plot without revealing some twists that really should be experienced first-hand – the summary doesn’t give too much away, and so I knew much less than what this review reveals going in – which is how this book should be read. I can, at least, tell you that the twists and turns the story takes are excellent, and learning the truth behind everything Nora and her allies uncover is absolutely worth getting through the slower first section of the book. The Book of Blood and Shadow was just the adventure I was looking for, and I wish there was more YA like it.