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.
Right off, let me say I loved Adriane. I expected her to be this one-dimensional, back-stabbing, boyfriend-smothering Mean Girl, but this beautiful line in chapter 10 changed my mind: “Adriane explained to me in great detail how to rid my hair of the dreaded frizz then made a classically Adrianesque segue into discussing the deep-rooted cultural and racial issues embedded into any evaluation of hairstyle.” Wasserman is a woman after my own heart! The way these kids talk, even just the narration in Nora’s head, is so refreshing and interesting, because these kids care more about their relationships and the Winter Formal (sorry, Evie), plus they’re of above average intelligence. I loved reading about their translations, their interactions, and Max and Nora’s first kiss. It was so cute and nerdy and awkward that I found myself squeeing. These characters are so endearing and relatable that when the inevitable happens, Chris is killed and Max disappears, it hurts you. I found myself hoping that Chris doesn’t die, even though his death occurs at the very beginning of this book. I didn’t want Nora to be alone.
Things start moving after Chris’s memorial service. We meet his cousin, Eli, and see Adriane again. Eventually, the whole crowd, or what’s left of it, heads to Europe, Prague, and the Lumen Dei. It’s strange how Nora and Adriane interact after Chris. Their mutual interest is gone, and they find they were hardly friends at all in the end. Still, they search for Max. And here’s where it started getting… weird for me. Is this a love story? A mystery? Am I really supposed to believe that Nora loves Max, and Max Nora, when we saw so little loving interaction between them? We saw more intimacy between Nora and Chris than Nora and Max, and I had a hell of a time believing in their true love. Max didn’t sound like Prince Charming, he sounded moody and secretive. I didn’t trust him, and it’s hard to explain why without spoiling.
So I loved the image Wasserman painted of Prague, but I started hoping someone else would get murdered. Something about the teenagers actually leaving on some far-fetched search just made me keep my distance. There’s a big betrayal a little over three-quarters of the way through, and after that, I found it hard to slog through the rest. I don’t know why, but my interest in this novel just evaporated after that Big Reveal, even though the circumstances should have made me more intrigued. Something about the last quarter of this novel just didn’t work for me. That doesn’t mean it won’t work for you though!