Vespertine by Margaret Rogerson
Publisher: Simon and Schuster UK
Publication date: 05 October 2021
Genre: YA fantasy
Page count: 400 pages
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. This review is spoiler-free.
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.
Margaret Rogerson is an author who gets better and better with each book. I read An Enchantment of Ravens and Sorcery of Thorns and enjoyed them, but this felt like a step up in terms of maturity and skill. Vespertine is a book about religion, faith, conspiracy, and confronting the way you interact with the world. Oh, and it’s ridiculously good fun and filled to the brim with banter and friendship.
Loraille is a world with strong medieval France vibes that is filled with magic in the form of religion. Artemisia’s faith in The Lady is explored through the book as she uncovers a conspiracy and reckons with her own power, and the question of faith plays an interesting, secondary role in the overall story. Religion and faith just isn’t something I’m much interested in, to be honest it usually turns me off of a book, but Rogerson’s light touch approach and the complexities she introduces are well done.
The characters and their relationships are where this book really shines. Artemisia is a departure from the self-assured, confident, and powerful girls so often seen in YA fantasy books. Instead she is an awkward girl with deep-seated traumas and anxieties. She struggles in her interactions with other people and has been ‘othered’ by her peers at the convent. Her relationship with the revenant is what helps her blossom. I absolutely loved their interactions — the revenant is sarcastic, snarky, and rude and Artemisia is putting up with none of its bullshit. The two coax each other out of their respective shells and the masks drop, making their charming relationship something really special.
There are a number of side characters in this book that also have fantastic relationships with Artemisia. I really loved the people who she meets and interacts with later in the book, as well as her antagonistic relationship with our villain. Rogerson really nails the character interactions in this book, making it an absolutely joyful read.
I feel like this author is well known for her swoony romances, so it’s interesting to me that this book just doesn’t have any romance in it at all (although it’s the first in a duology, so something may develop later). I actually really appreciated this — it feels rare for a YA book to not have a romantic plotline. Vespertine really focuses on friendships and non-romantic relationships, making room for deeper character explorations we may not have gotten otherwise.
Vespertine is a fabulous YA fantasy book that I’d highly recommend, whether you’re a fan of her previous books or not. A masterfully told story and a cracking good read, Vespertine is the perfect lightly spooky read for the winter.
Want to pick up a copy of Vespertine for yourself? You can find it at the following sites (affiliate links):