Series: Vespertine #1
Author: Margaret Rogerson
Genre: YA, Fantasy
Published: October 5th, 2021 (Margaret K. McElderry Books)
Synopsis: 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.
In Loraille, those who possess the Sight are taken in and raised by the Clerisy to use their abilities to fight the dead in different ways. Artemisia is training to join the Gray Sisters at the convent in Naimes, who purify dead bodies to prevent them from becoming corrupted and rising as spirits to possess the living. When the convent is attacked by possessed soldiers, Artemisia uses an ancient saint’s relic and calls upon the spirit bound to it to protect it. But the spirit turns out to be a revenant, the most powerful order of spirits and while through it, she can wield extraordinary power in combat against the dead, she is acutely aware that the malicious spirit can and will possess her the moment she lets her guard down. When it becomes clear that someone is using Old Magic to control the possessed soldiers, Artemesia finds herself turning to the revenant itself for help to unravel the conspiracy.
So I totally added this to my TBR as soon as I saw that Margaret Rogerson had a new book without reading the blurb, because after the masterpiece that was Sorcery of Thorns, I am willing to read anything by this author. The world building in this book was much more complicated than I expected. I suppose a good way to describe the world is that it felt like a crossover of Garth Nix’s Angel Mage and the Old Kingdom series. With tales of old magic, the dead rising as different orders of spirits depending on how they died, the lore behind relics and revenants, the author has created a rich and intriguing world in Loraille. The writing was simple but good, and it complemented the world building really well with the descriptive language making it easy to visualize things.
Artemesia, who is very socially awkward and withdrawn, had the potential to turn into a really strong character as the story progressed and she finds herself unexpectedly wielding a powerful relic, with people beginning to look up to her as a hero and saviour of sorts. However, her character just didn’t stand out to me at all, and most of my attention was on the plot. I did however, love the interactions between her and the revenant, and their very reluctant but slowly growing friendship. The banter was perfect and to be honest, the revenant was much more interesting than Artemesia.
As fascinating as the world building was, the way it was presented was decidedly less so. Things remained infuriatingly vague for a significant portion of the book, and even once things started making more sense, it took much more effort than it should have to follow the story. And that’s not even taking the pacing into account – I was yawning by the 30% mark and if it hadn’t picked up soon after, this might have been a DNF for me.
I expected a much more grand and dramatic ending after all the build up in those final chapters, so the rather anticlimactic end was a bit disappointing. Vespertine isn’t my favourite of Margaret Rogerson’s books – that’s definitely Sorcery of Thorns – but this is worth a read for the unique concept alone. While this book does wrap up the immediate storyline, it leaves some potential for a sequel, and I’m curious to see where Artemesia’s journey might take her next. Overall, while some aspects of this book didn’t really work for me, it turned out to be an enjoyable read as a whole and I would recommend it.
Have you read this book? Let me know in the comments below!
Other reviews in this series: