Thanks to Simon and Schuster UK and NetGalley for the Advance Review Copy in exchange for an honest review.
I greatly enjoyed Rogerson’s last book ‘Sorcery of Thorns’ so I was really excited to be accepted for an advance copy for Vespertine (SUCH a great title) and I know it’s a hotly anticipated release as well so I had high expectations all around.
This book follows the story of Artemisia, a young woman training to be a nun who looks after the dead to ensure that they can pass successfully onto the next world and won’t return twisted and evil. As someone who has more than a slight morbid/creepy facet to her personality, I was already hooked after the first couple of pages. The story starts in a graveyard! I got a bit of a Red Sister vibe at the very beginning, but the books aren’t similar at all. I’m just highlighting that to say that if you are into reading about badass nuns (and who isn’t?) then this is a book that you want to check out.
What I like about Rogerson is that her female characters are always a little bit different, both in appearance and personality. It’s not the usual ‘Oh I am so beautiful and quirky but the only one who can’t see it is me, tee hee’ trope that is so often a feature of the YA genre. Her characters always have an aspect of themselves that presents some kind of challenge they need to try and come to terms with and they aren’t just framed as being a kind of perfect diamond in the rough so I appreciate that as I find reading about perfectly nubile battle babes a bit of a snore at times.
What I found really cool about this book, amongst various other things, was the spirit classification. To summarise very briefly – the way someone dies can have implications for how their spirit will return. If they have not had the proper rites undertaken for them, they will return as undead spirits. So for example there are spirits of people who have died by fire, spirits of people who have drowned, spirits of murdered clerics etc. The spirits also have different classifications as to the danger they pose to the living. I just found the imagination and creativity of it cool and I was just really into the whole concept of it from the very beginning. Linked to this I also really liked the Revenants and how these were described (wouldn’t some art of these be cool? Yes, yes it would) and how Artemisia’s Revenant interacts with her and its backstory (such as we saw of it). I suppose it sounds a little bit strange for Artemisia to form a relationship with a being that is possessing her, but I loved their rapport and the relationship that builds between them.
The setting I think was also portrayed effectively. I don’t know if it was intentional but to me, it felt like it had a French kind of feel to it, maybe because of some of the names of characters, places and some of the descriptions of the towns and cities and the buildings etc as well as the religious structure of it if you will. I got a bit of Joan of Arc vibes from Artemisia without it being cheesy as it’s certainly not how she sees herself but perhaps how others see her. In some sense she could be seen as a kind of saviour/Joan of Arc type figure but that doesn’t translate to her actual personality, she’s not sanctimonious or preachy at all and I enjoyed her characterization.
I also really liked the whole plot device around the reliquaries. For anyone not familiar with reliquaries, they are usually rather ornate containers that are used to hold a relic of a saint. They often take the form of caskets, jewellery or little boxes etc, often highly decorated and it’s quite common to come across churches that contain holy relics in places like Paris or Rome. Some of them are very famous and people will travel from all over the world to see them. I suppose that also added to the French vibe I got from the novel as it resonated with some of the relics I have seen in churches in Paris such as Sainte-Chapelle and Notre Dame.
I also like there were a few twists and turns and red herrings in this book. There are certain things that the author sets up that don’t play out quite the way you think they will. The character of Leander for example initially seemed like he was going to be a Judge Claude Frollo type of guy but things didn’t play out the way I expected and his character isn’t one dimensional in the way it might have been in other books. Ditto also to the character of Marguerite. Rather than being the usual Mean Girl trope, there are hidden layers to who she is.
There isn’t any overt romance in this book, but I was certainly picking up some vibes between some of the characters. I’m really, REALLY hoping that this is going to be series and if it is then I would be excited to see what happens next with the characters but what also works with this book is that even if it isn’t going to be a series it still works well as a standalone.
It’s probably pretty obvious at this point that I really enjoyed this book. I’ve already purchased the Fairyloot special edition and am hoping and praying with every finger and toe crossed that there will be a sequel.