September 27, 2021

Book Review: Vespertine

I'm always low key interested in novels that feature necromancy, or any sort of magic tied to death. And because I've had pretty positive experiences with Margaret Rogerson's work, I was excited when Vespertine was announced. In the book, Artemisia is a novice training to become one of the Gray Sisters - nuns who cleanse the bodies of the deceased so that their souls can pass on instead of rising as spirits who hunger for the living. When her convent is attacked by possessed soldiers, Artemisia winds up awakening a revenant, a powerful ancient spirit bound to a saint's relic, and wielding its power to defend her home. But the death and destruction don't end there, and Artemisia soon finds herself knee deep in a mystery involving secrets, saints and dark magic.

The first couple of chapters of Vespertine threw me off a bit with how much information is conveyed with regards to the world and the lore. Now, I'm not necessarily completely opposed to 'info dumps', especially in fantasy books that are set in unique worlds. But I worried that this would set the tone for the book as a series starter and I'd find it to be slower paced than I normally like my books to be. Luckily, this didn't end up being the case! The pacing certainly picks up a bit as the situations Artemisia finds herself in escalate, and I ended up flying through the rest of the story with an eagerness to find out what would happen next and how things would wrap up. (That said, there's a repetitiveness to the plot that did frustrate me just a touch a time or two, but since I was curious about where it was all going to go, I had no trouble just moving on past that mild irritation.)

I enjoyed the lore that Rogerson crafted for her story, particularly the details about the origin and abilities of spirits and the history of the Loraille. It's kept fairly simple, and there are a lot of familiarities sprinkled all throughout that mirror other stories featuring spirits, death and that particular brand of dark magic. But everything about the setting, history and magic just felt wholly formed and real to me as a reader; it helped the reading experience be incredibly immersive, which is always something I want out of a fantasy read.

I liked our cast of characters well enough, though I have a clear favorite (and we'll get to that in a minute). There are a whole host of secondary characters that charmed, frustrated or angered me in turn, depending on what their role was in Artemisia's life and this story. They were developed just enough to feel like real individuals, but because their page time was pretty limited, I didn't feel a particularly strong attachment to any of them. (Also, for all my pals looking for reads without romance - this might just be the book for you!)

As you might have guessed, Artemisia and the revenant are the two characters readers spend the most time with since a large chunk of the novel consists of their private interactions and experiences. It took me time to really warm up to Artemisia. But it's pretty clear from the start that she's a good, loyal individual who simply wants to be left to her own comfortable devices, and her unveiled history eventually explains a lot of her choices, thoughts and tendency to keep to herself. While I didn't always find it easy to be in her head, I was rooting for her triumph. As for the revenant, it was a case of meeting a character I instantly liked. The sass! The pushy nurturing! The occasional moments of vulnerability! Despite the fact that the revenant was all about constant threats and insults, and even though there was that constant question of whether they'd betray Artemisia at the back of my mind, I couldn't help but enjoy the revenant. 

Despite my minor apprehensions at the beginning, Vespertine wound up being a compelling YA fantasy (and one that I find especially fitting for the autumnal spooky season). I really liked this first installment, and I'm certainly looking forward to seeing what happens next.

Vespertine (Vespertine #1) by Margaret Rogerson 
Pub Info: October 5, 2021 by Margaret K. McElderry Books
Source: ARC received from the publisher for review

Margaret Rogerson is the author of the New York Times bestsellers An Enchantment of Ravens and Sorcery of Thorns. She has a bachelor’s degree in cultural anthropology from Miami University. When not reading or writing she enjoys sketching, gaming, making pudding, and watching more documentaries than is socially acceptable (according to some). She lives near Cincinnati, Ohio, beside a garden full of hummingbirds and roses. (Website | Instagram | Twitter)


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