The Cloisters | Review
Rating - ⭐⭐⭐.25
"When Ann Stilwell arrives in New York City, she expects to spend her summer working as a curatorial associate at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Instead, she finds herself assigned to The Cloisters, a gothic museum and garden renowned for its medieval art collection and its group of enigmatic researchers studying the history of divination.
Desperate to escape her painful past, Ann is happy to indulge the researchers’ more outlandish theories about the history of fortune telling. But what begins as academic curiosity quickly turns into obsession when Ann discovers a hidden 15th-century deck of tarot cards that might hold the key to predicting the future. When the dangerous game of power, seduction, and ambition at The Cloisters turns deadly, Ann becomes locked in a race for answers as the line between the arcane and the modern blurs."
The Cloisters is a standalone mystery novel by Katy Hays.
First and foremost, I would like to thank NetGalley and Atria Books for giving me the opportunity to review this in advance. Please note that this in no way affects my opinions. Also note that what I read was an ARC, and things may be subject to change for the official release.
I was a bit hesitant going into this book because I wasn't entirely sure why I chose to request an ARC of this book. I was unsure because it said that this is for fans of The Secret History and Ninth House. I haven't read the former but I know it's hit or miss for people, and I did not like the latter. So, I didn't know whether or not I would enjoy this, but I had hope because this is set in a museum.
I studied both history and then museum studies in school, so this does end up hitting a soft spot for me in that regard. But in terms of the overall story, it was okay as it just managed to surpass 'meh' for me.
Let's get into the details.
I don't have much to say about the writing. The only comment I have is that I don't think I was the biggest fan of the use of a first-person perspective because it made the main character seem a bit distant. I did end up getting used to that though and found my overall experience reading this to be easy enough.
Right off the bat, the tone was set with the setup of the story. There is a mention of a body and emotions of jealousy, greed, and ambition. So not only is the tone set but the reader is also given an idea of what is to come. The issue for me though, in this instance, is that due to the pacing of the book, it took a while for tensions to build and for the story to reach that point.
As for the overall story, I found it to be just okay. I will get more into what I did like a bit later on, but I found that as it progressed and everything started to unravel, I found myself enjoying the story less. The pacing was a bit slow, possibly only because I was waiting for the suspense or mystery aspect of the story to kick in. I also found the direction of the plot, and the mystery, to be rather predictable. Some hints were thrown early on, and it was simply just a very straightforward because of how it was set up.
By the time it got to the climax, not only did I already know what was going to happen, but the story just fizzled out. You spend the entirety of the book slowly building up to it, and then all of the tension just died out instead of exploding. It resulted in an ending that was kind of disappointing to read.
One thing I don't understand regarding the direction of the story was divination. Divination, and by extension tarot, was a huge theme in this story and it was an interesting one as well. What I don't understand, however, are the hints of magical realism. They are so subtle that I don't know whether or not they were actually there. If they were, I wish the book leaned more into it and, if not, that it wouldn't have gone in that direction at all.
What I did enjoy about this book was the author's dedication to the facts. I loved reading about the more historical elements of the plot, and the fact that this is set in a real museum was the icing on the cake. That is just me though because this is exactly what I studied, and it may not be what draws other people to the book.
I am not good with unreliable characters or ones with questionable motives but not in the good way some morally grey characters are written. So, I did end up struggling a bit with this story because of that. I wouldn't say they were badly written, but I wasn't invested in their story because of the direction some of the characters ended up going in.
Ann, as the main character, felt like she didn't really belong. She is one of those characters who made me question - why her? Why is she the one the author chose to tell the story through? I wasn't rooting for her character at all, which does put a damper on my reading experience. I understand that it is easy to become dependent on someone who shows interest in you when you are not used to any form of connection. That still didn't make me like her though because of the choices she makes in this and her refusal to see things clearly.
As for the supporting characters (Rachel, Patrick and Leo), I find that they didn't add too much to the story in terms of personality. They were there to fill a role and that is pretty much it. Rachel's characterization was pretty blatant, Patrick's as well. Leo was the one character who I felt could have been taken out entirely. While he did play a role in the plot in some minor way, I just didn't particularly like what he added to the narrative.
I think this ends up being more of an 'it's me not you' kind of book because while there were elements I didn't like, I still do think that many people will enjoy this more than I did.
I do think that marketing this as mystery, or even having suspense as a subgenre, wasn't exactly the greatest move, because of the pacing of the book. More time is spent establishing Ann at the museum and connecting with other characters than on the mystery. As for the suspense, there are some elements in there, sure, but they are not prominent enough for this to be considered one.
If you are looking for something similar, but also not, I would recommend The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin. Divination is a prominent theme in this book, and there are some discussions about whether or not you would want to know your future. That is exactly what The Immortalists is about, a family being told exactly when they are going to die and how that affects the rest of their lives.