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Book Review | Vespertine by Margaret Rogerson

From the publisher: 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.

This book is an excellent read for October and November. It’s all liminal shades of gray and silver instead of bright autumnal colors, but it still perfectly conveys a sense of shades and spirits. The extensive world-building is reminiscent of France during the time of Joan of Arc, with an emphasis on the ecclesiastical elements that make up Artemisia’s world. A glossary in the back details the orders of the spirits encountered in the book, from shades to the seven named revenants.

Artemisia reads as white and several secondary characters are described as having dark skin. In addition to her scarred hands, with limited mobility in the one, Artemisia has PTSD and crippling social anxiety. There’s no romance of any flavor, which some may find a welcome relief when it comes to YA fantasy. 

I was initially attracted to this book based on the description and the cover, and bumped it up my (long) TBR list in order to check off a “ghost” box in an online bingo contest. I’m very glad I didn’t let this one linger unread. I really enjoyed this book and am eagerly looking forward to the second half of the duology. It’s a gorgeous adventure in a well-crafted world with engaging characters.

While listed as YA, Vespertine is highly recommended for adult fantasy fans as well, in addition to those who enjoy historical fiction. As the author herself notes, fans of the Marvel character Venom will see the similarities in an ordinary person who finds themself unexpectedly sharing headspace and carrying on conversations with an otherworldly creature. 

Trigger warnings, as provided by the author: Self-harm, anxiety, disordered eating (minor), child neglect/abuse (past), trauma/PTSD (traumatic experiences in past). None of the abuse or trauma is sexual in nature. Very brief suicide mention in the epilogue, concerning a character from the past who never appears in the book.

Thank you very much to Simon and Schuster Children’s Publishing and NetGalley for the ARC!

Vespertine will be available for checkout from Galesburg Public Library after its October 5 release date.