Author: Margaret Rogerson
Series: Vespertine, book 1
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books (October 5, 2021)
Hardcover, 400 pages
Fantasy, YA Fantasy
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.
Did I know I needed a book that was basically Garth Nix’s Sabriel meets Tom Hardy’s Venom? No. No I did not. But boy howdy, once I started reading Vespertine it sure clicked quickly that THIS – this is the book I’ve been looking for in my life.
Do you ever read a book that’s so good that when you try to talk about it words just… don’t… word? That’s my trying to talk about Vespertine. Look, it’s just really really great. It’s not spelled out and I haven’t seen this confirmed anywhere, but I think Artemesia (the main character) is neurodivergent. She has trouble with eye contact, knowing what’s “normal” conversation, a flat affect, touch aversion, sensitivity to visual over-stimulation, etc. Margaret Rogerson also confirmed she’s ace (she meaning Artemesia, but also Margaret Rogerson is ace as well), and there’s no romance in this one.
I really loved An Enchantment of Ravens, and I adore Vespertine, and it’s incredible to me how the same author wrote two just different – but both spectacular – books. She does have some themes she seems to embrace across books (like ravens). I haven’t read A Sorcery of Thorns yet (but you can bet it’s on my list!!) so I can’t speak to how it is in comparison to these two books – maybe it bridges the gap between them and makes a better picture of who Margaret Rogerson is as a writer. I’ll have to find out!
I love the world building in this. The Orders of the Dead and concept of Old Magic reminded me a lot of Garth Nix’s Abhorsen/Old Kingdom series, except hey, let’s add combat nuns and a (kind of pushy) goddess to the mix! I absolutely adore Artemisia and would want to give her a hug if I didn’t think she’s absolutely hate it, haha. Her… relationship?… with the revenant is just so amazing and definitely the best part of this incredible book. It’s 400 pages and I read the entire book in one sitting. At 11 pm I looked at the clock and said “oh gosh, I should get to bed soon, I have to work in the morning” and then suddenly it was almost 1 am and I only had 40 pages left so of course I had to finish it. Vespertine was definitely my favorite book of the year.
This is the first book in a duology, but it does have a self-contained plot that is resolved by the end. There is no cliff-hanger, and if you wanted to read it as a stand alone, you could. (But trust me, you’re going to want the next book!)
From the author:
Self-harm, anxiety, disordered eating (minor), child neglect/abuse (past), trauma/PTSD (traumatic experiences in past). None of the abuse or trauma is sexual in nature. Very brief suicide mention in the epilogue, concerning a character from the past who never appears in the book.
A digital ARC of this book was provided by the publisher via Edelweiss+ for review. All opinions are unbiased and my own.