Let me preface this review by first being totally honest and be upfront about the fact that Margaret Rogerson is one of my favorite new authors to have debuted within the past few years. She writes the kind of mature YA fantasy that I absolutely devour. I’ve also loved that she has stuck to writing fantasy standalones… until now. When I found out that her newest release, Vespertine, was going to be the start of a new series, I knew I had to have it.
HUGE thanks to my friends at Simon & Schuster for gifting me a copy for an honest review and allowing me to be a part of their blogger blitz!
The dead of Loraille do not rest.
Artemisia is training to be a Gray Sister, a nun who cleanses the bodies of the deceased so that their souls can pass on; otherwise, they will rise as spirits with a ravenous hunger for the living. She would rather deal with the dead than the living, who trade whispers about her scarred hands and troubled past.
When her convent is attacked by possessed soldiers, Artemisia defends it by awakening an ancient spirit bound to a saint’s relic. It is a revenant, a malevolent being that threatens to possess her the moment she drops her guard. Wielding its extraordinary power almost consumes her—but death has come to Loraille, and only a vespertine, a priestess trained to wield a high relic, has any chance of stopping it. With all knowledge of vespertines lost to time, Artemisia turns to the last remaining expert for help: the revenant itself.
As she unravels a sinister mystery of saints, secrets, and dark magic, her bond with the revenant grows. And when a hidden evil begins to surface, she discovers that facing this enemy might require her to betray everything she has been taught to believe—if the revenant doesn’t betray her first.
Rogerson knows a thing or two about creating a world so vivid that you’re transported to it from the very first page. I was immediately drawn into the dark and bleak Loraille, which is overrun by restless spirits of the dead. The spirits in this book are divided into 5 Orders based upon how they originally died and what kind of “power” that has bestowed upon them. Now, if I have one complaint for this book, it would be that you are sort of dropped into the middle of all of these classifications without any background knowledge. It took me quite a bit to understand the differences and recognize the many different names used. It did seem a bit info-dumpy in the beginning and I was left scrambling around for around 100 pages until I was able to catch up. With that being said, I was completely fascinated by this world and I loved the idea of a chancellery running the kingdom with warrior nuns and priests providing an army against the spirits, especially by using spirit-bound relics to grant them special powers. I have seen comparisons to Joan of Arc, and while I can see where someone might get that idea, it’s even more intense than our poor martyr, Joan (she didn’t have this kind of power!).
Which brings us to our own little savior, Artemisia. She’s the ultimate reluctant hero and awkward with a capital A! Growing up in a tiny village, she suffered from a very traumatizing childhood that was impacted by her ability to see spirits and thus causing her to be possessed at a young age. TRIGGER WARNING: The abuse she suffered from her family for this tragedy, ultimately does cause her to have PTSD as well as a physical disability of limited use of her fingers due to extreme burns. I loved how resilient Artemisia is. She only wanted to stay in the convent and prepare the dead for burial, but instead is thrust into the spotlight upon her bonding with the Revenant. And let me tell you, they are a character. Revenant is snarky, sullen, and very much an asshole. Their relationship with Artemisia is fascinating and I loved how you get to see it progress throughout the book. If you love sarcastic banter, you’ll enjoy their interactions. My favorites were their snide comments about humans.. HILARIOUS. And there’s our resident priest, Leander, who’s an intensely menacing and mysterious presence chasing down Artemisia. He has plans of his own and you’re never quite sure what his ultimate end-goal is. I was so intrigued following along with Artemisia as she tries to discover what he wants.
Like I mentioned earlier, I didn’t too many issues with this book (as I had hoped!). I think the only criticism I really have is the overwhelming info-dump at the beginning, which I overcame the more I became accustomed to the world. However, this is the first book in a fantasy series and that is a common enough problem for the genre. I think another issue that some might have is that this book has ZERO romance in it. Which is another large difference between Vespertine and Rogerson’s previous novels. Now, it didn’t bother me too much because the other types of relationships were interesting enough but I do wonder if that will change any in the sequel. I was getting a teeny tiny hint of something towards the very end but that could also just be my wishful thinking. If you are one of those readers who prefers romance in their stories, just be aware that this one may not provide enough for you.
This story really did wow me. I loved going on this journey to sainthood with Artemisia and was constantly left on the edge of my seat. This was a very different type of story than I had first expected from Rogerson, but I loved having my expectations subverted like that. There is so much more to explore in this world and I’m really glad that there’s going to be an opportunity to experience it. Please be aware that this a darker story and comes with a few different trigger warnings from the author – self-harm, anxiety, disordered eating (minor), child neglect/abuse (past), trauma/PTSD (traumatic experiences in past). I do feel that these were handled with care but YMMV.
Final Verdict: 5/5 Stars
Is Vespertine on your TBR? Do you like books without romance in them? Do you prefer to read standalones or series? If you have read Vespertine, what did you think of it?