In the late 1500s, Prague was a cultural hotspot. The reigning monarch of the Holy Roman Empire, Emperor Rudolf II, was a patron of the arts and humanities, including scholars, sculptors, and mystics.
Rudolf also had a close relationship with the Jews of the region. Rabbi Judah Loew, the reputed creator of the Golem, was a guest at the Emperor’s castle–and, according to some historical accounts, Loew taught the Emperor about kabbalah and other Jewish mystical ideas.
The new novel The Book of Blood and Shadow, by Robin Wasserman, starts in the present day–but it doesn’t remain there for long. A group of friends have been working on a college project, translating a series of letters from the 1500s. Soon, their work attracts the attention of a secret society, and the friends find themselves traveling to Prague, retracing the footsteps of Rudolf’s inner circle of artists. This leads the students right to Rabbi Loew’s old haunts, the Old-New Synagogue and the Old Jewish Cemetery.
It’s thrilling to read as the friends find themselves trapped in the attic of the Old-New Synagogue, following clues they find tucked inside a centuries-old mezuzah. The story’s climax is like all the good parts of The Da Vinci Code layered together, but without the extended history lessons, and with some cool winks to those of us who know about Judaism. It’s half historical mystery, half thriller…and wholly amazing.