Book Review: Vespertine

Synopsis from Goodreads: 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.

I had been anxiously awaiting Margaret Rogerson’s newest book, Vespertine, and received my print copy in the mail this past week! I probably don’t need to give you much of a review beyond the fact that I devoured it in 24 hours – but if you want a bit more detail, here you go.

Set in a vaguely medieval French landscape, complete with stony castles, remote convents, and a whole host of relics and saints, the main character, Artemesia, is training to be a Gray Sister. The Sisters are trained to provide a peaceful transition from life into the after-death, or a nonpeaceful one if necessary. Trained in herbal lore as well as sword-fighting, Artemesia has the Sight, which is both a gift and a curse, that allows her to see the spirits and made her open to possession by a spirit as a young child. She was able to fight off that spirit and this incident led her to being adopted by the convent as one of their novices. Artemesia is socially unsure of herself and not liked by the other Sisters in training. When the convent is attacked by an army of spirits, the prioress sends Artemesia into the catecombs to rescue the convent’s priceless relic that houses a revenant, the most powerful of the spirit classes. In doing so, Artemesia unwittingly releases the revenant into herself and must fight for control of herself against this spirit, who has its own mind and exceptional power.

Atmospheric and filled with brilliantly written action sequences filled with ghosts and magic, this is a fast-paced thrill of an adventure. There are moments in Artemesia’s story that feel a lot like those of Joan of Arc, where the line between being a crusading avenger of the poor and downtrodden, and a crazy mystic who hears voices inside her head is blurred. I was cheering for Artemesia every step of her journey and loved how much character Rogerson built into the revenant (who definitely is a force to be reckoned with). Supporting characters are nicely multidimensional, and I loved that they also had their own paths to follow and battles to fight. (Major bonus points from me for the character of Priestbane. I was extremely happy when he popped back up at the end of the book!) I also appreciated that, despite the fact (as I understand it) this is the beginning of a series, it still had a satisfying ending and while the door was left open for more to come, it wasn’t a cliff-hanger and can definitely stand on its own.

Another great 4+ star title from this author for me. I really enjoyed An Enchantment of Ravens (possibly one of my favorite YA Fantasy books ever) and would put Vespertine in the group with Enchantment. I’ll be looking for more titles from this author whenever she’s ready to write more!

This is book 18/24 for my Fall Into Reading Challenge.

3 thoughts on “Book Review: Vespertine

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