Book: “Vespertine” by Margaret Rogerson
Publishing Info: Margaret K. McElderry Books, October 2021
Where Did I Get this Book: Edelweiss+
Book Description: 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.
Review: I have been Goodreads stalking Margaret Rogerson for years now. Awhile ago she mentioned she was working on a new project, but it hadn’t yet been picked by a publisher. So imagine my glee when I finally saw an ARC pop up on Edelweiss+? This has probably been one of my most anticipated reads this year, so you know I dove in immediately (regardless of the timing of this review…)
Tending to the dead, freeing their spirits to depart in peace, lingering in the shadows. This is all that Artemisia wants for her life. And with hundreds of years passing in relative peace, her path seems clear before her. But now the dead are on the move once more, gathering in groups and attacking in a coordinated effort. Some greater force must be at work. And when her home is attacked, Artemisia is forced to take up a greater spirit herself, wielding its power to save her home. But with this new power comes a new test: who can she trust? The revenant inside her, whispering of dark things in the past? Or he Clerisy itself, with priests who are tasked to protect this world seeming to now work against it?
So the question was never would I like this book or not. Instead, it was just how much would I love it! I was a bit concerned about reports that there was no romance included in the story. Not only do I like my fantasy paired with a nice romance, but Rogerson’s two previous books each featured an excellent romance, part of what made me like them so much to begin with! But I’m happy to report that Rogerson cleverly out-maneuvered me here. Yes, there isn’t a romance at its heart. But there still is a deep relationship at its heart, the one that slowly forms between the revenant and Artemisia. It’s not a romance, but it’s also hard to frame within the general confines of typical relationships.
For one thing, the revenant is so clearly not human. The witty banter and sharp criticism of “silly humans” not only kept this fact clear in the reader’s mind the entire time, but was also highly effective at creating a character who’s only real presence is that of a disembodied voice. There were also a number of mysteries surrounding this world’s past, the great war that saw the destruction of this and other revenants, and of this particular revenant itself. These details slowly came out bit by bit, and I was anxiously speed-reading the entire time trying to get to the next revelation.
Artemisia was also an excellent character. While human herself, her entire life was made up of “otherness” in some form or another. In this way, her growing closeness with a being considered by the rest of the world to be supremely evil is fairly natural. We see her struggles to participate in interactions with other people in ways that they understand, not knowing what to say and not reacting in the ways they expect. Given her troubled past, she also struggles with crowds and is quickly overwhelmed by people around her. These anxieties felt very real and I think were very relatable.
I also really liked the magic system and world that Rogerson created. All three of the books I’ve read from her now were very original in this way. But throughout them all, there was a level of detail and creativity that made it appear that she was equally comfortable in all three, never hindered by any specifics found in fantasy subgenres. Instead, its her strong character work and witty dialogue that is the true through-line of her work. As a character reader myself, that left this book with no where to go but straight into the “10 rating” column for me.
Rating: I absolutely adored it. Action-packed, fantasy-forward, and with a delightful odd-couple at its heart.