Rating - ⭐⭐⭐⭐1/2
"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."
Vespertine is an upcoming standalone fantasy novel by Margaret Rogerson.
First and foremost, I would like to thank NetGalley and Margaret K. McElderry Books for granting me access to review this book. Please note that this in no way affects my opinions. Also note that because what I read was an arc, things may be subject to change for the final release.
I pushed off reading this for so long. I liked An Enchantment of Ravens and loved Sorcery of Thorns even more, so I was equal parts ecstatic and nervous to read this because my expectations were so high. I was expecting Rogerson to yet again step up to the plate and knock it out of the park, and she didn't disappoint. She left me wanting more, but in the best way possible. This was sensational, and here is why I thought so.
I have no complaints about the writing aside from some very minor details. The story was the slightest bit slow on the uptake, but it picks up speed really quick and the pacing is fine from then on. The only other small issue I found was the use of italics. I thought it was a smart idea to use them in order to distinguish the thoughts of the revenant compared to the rest of the characters, but it was inconsistent at times. I will not fault the book for that though as I expect that it will be fixed for the final version.
I generally don't like books with a focus on religion, and to some extent, there were some aspects that were still iffy for me, but when it comes to Rogerson, not even that could stop me from liking this book. The religious elements worked really well to create an interesting story and elevate it as this was a lot more complex than your typical supernatural/paranormal story.
As I said before, the plot was a bit slow on the uptake even though you start the book right away with the catalyst for the main character's journey. While I would have liked the exposition to be in the first chapter, we do end up getting it really early on which I appreciated. That is more of a personal opinion though as I like for my books to give me an info dump right in the beginning for context. And, even though the introduction was slow, the set-up for our main character to meet was well-done.
From then on, I really don't have to say as I breezed through this book in one sitting. I think that says enough though as Rogerson was able to keep me entirely engrossed in the book from beginning all the way to the end. As for the ending though, I found that it did end rather quickly without much of a conflict, but I wasn't left unsatisfied though which was good. My only quip with the ending is that it was rather abrupt and I would have liked for it to be just a bit longer so that the reader can know what the next step in the journey is.
One thing you cannot deny when it comes to Rogerson is that she knows how to create a world. Being able to craft a whole new world that is complex enough to carry the story without being overwhelming is hard, and this is especially so when it comes to a standalone. Rogerson manages to find the perfect spot in between by creating a world that is rich in both history and potential. Steeped in religion and history, those aspects do most of the heavy lifting with just enough fantasy elements added into the mix to satisfy any fantasy reader.
The hierarchal system that was used to classify the different types of spirits was a good way to separate and introduce the main creatures in the world. I appreciate how Rogerson took an extra step in making the world more complex by not classifying all spirits as simply just vengeful ghosts. Each classification is different as a result of the way in which they died, which is fascinating. As a side note, there is a list included at the end of the book which is very helpful and I would definitely award bonus points for that. Books that include an appendix of information that is crucial for understanding the world are very much so appreciated by the reader.
A key aspect of this world is the use of relics as a form of weapon. Relics are objects that are closely related to that of a saint and mainly come in the form of a part of their body. In this world, relics are imbued with the presence of spirits and the wielder, if they are strong enough, can call upon its abilities. I thought that this was a rather innovative and unique way to connect the religious and historical aspects of the world to the fantasy ones. The idea of having objects imbued with either magical abilities or forces is not a new one, but it made for an interesting story nonetheless.
There were some elements of the world that I wished were more prominent as they were intriguing. For example, the Raven King was mentioned in passing as he was an important historical figure, albeit not a good one, so I would have liked for him to have a more prominent role in the story. I also would have liked to know more about the other revenants as they are only mentioned in passing as well. I would 100% be down to reading a compendium of the different spirits and historical figures, or a history of them.
This may seem like a weird detail to fixate on, but I am going to start by saying that Artemesia was well named. For some context, both Artemesia I and II of Caria (I am unsure which one is being referred to) were depicted as being both brave and clever women, and as such I find her namesake to be fitting as Artemesia didn't shy away from danger. She was entirely aware of her own character and was rather bold when she needed to be. What I also liked about her was that she had severe scar tissue on her hands. In the realm of YA fantasy, most main female characters are depicted as being perfect, so it is nice to see a character with some form of physical disfigurement.
Then we have the revenant, who was an absolute joy to read about. They gave me very strong Loki vibes, and it worked perfectly not only as they helped lift your spirits with their sassy banter, but their dynamic with Artemesia was interesting to read about too. As a spirit that no longer inhabits a body, the revenant had no gender which was another interesting aspect of their character as I haven't read any books that feature a gender-neutral character.
Aside from Artemesia and the revenant, none of the characters fell flat. Marguerite, Charles, and Jean all pulled their own weight as supporting characters, and the villains also kept the story interesting as well.
There was no romance, which is a first for Rogerson but I can't say whether or not I am disappointed. If you don't like romance in your fantasy novels then this would work for you. I think this goes to show that you don't always need romance as the connection between Artemesia and the revenant is more than enough, especially when I got the banter between them which I love in a romance anyway.
If anything, reading this has only confirmed that I would read anything Rogerson puts out. She excels in all aspects of this novel, from the plot to the world-building and the characters. If you enjoyed her last novels, then you most likely won't be disappointed by this one as well. If you are looking for something with similar vibes, I would suggest maybe Jujutsu Kaisen. The dynamic between Artemesia and the revenant reminded me of Itadori and Sukuna.