In just a few days, NYT bestselling author Margaret Rogerson is kicking off her first series with Vespertine. Artemisia is a nun-in-training. But not just any type of nun. She’s working towards being a Gray Sister, a nun who cleanses the deceased so that their souls can pass on. If they don’t, they risk returning as dangerous spirits. For the most part, everything runs smoothly; Artemisia focuses on her training, ignoring the others who gossip behind her back. When possessed soldiers attack her convent, Artemisia awakens a revenant — a powerful, malevolent ancient spirit — to defend the others. She soon realizes there’s more at play, relying on the revenant’s help to solve an ominous mystery.
As with all fantasy books, a certain amount of worldbuilding is essential. With Vespertine, Rogerson wastes no time doing so. She provides as much information as possible without bogging down the story. She allows everything to play out organically. Readers gain just enough insight to follow the events and still look forward to learning more. Rogerson’s rich building creates a vivid landscape to draw in readers. The unsettling atmosphere is palpable but is written in a way that only enhances the reading experience.
Along the same vein, I was especially intrigued by the religious aspect. In no way does Rogerson push religion. What she does so well in the book is pull familiar aspects from real-life while shaping it into something entirely hers. Readers see how integral its role is to the world of the book. Like anyone else, Artemisia faces her own doubts about it. However, she holds fast to what she gains from it. I also find that it heightens the stakes, considering how different characters approach it.
Artemisia is an excellent protagonist. She’s dynamic and enthralling. When Rogerson first introduces Artemisia, she scatters crumbs about Artemisia’s traumatic past. Interestingly, it’s not one that gives her a “woe is me” sort of attitude. Rather, she adjusts how she approaches the world. She’s outcast at her convent, but she still cares about the others. She demonstrates her skill but tries to remain as distant as possible, preferring the solitude over spotlight. While this carries through the story, she grows as a person. She begins to embrace her circumstances, using them to her advantage. By the end, she’s learned much. Her general personality remains, but now she’s ready to face whatever challenges come next.
One of my favorite aspects of the book is the symbiotic relationship between Artemisia and the revenant. Rogerson establishes early on that the revenant is not to be trusted. However, she causes some slight doubt as to whether that’s entirely true. Readers know the revenant’s intentions. It’s a formidable creature that, yeah, maybe is untrustworthy. But it drums up just enough sympathy that leads readers, and Artemisia, to want to trust it. Both Artemisia and the revenant face loneliness in their own ways. Artemisia finally has a constant (and incredibly snarky) companion. And after centuries of being trapped in a box, the revenant also gains some company. The two are certainly more different than they are alike. Regardless, they play well off each other. They both understand the conditions of their situation. The purely nonromantic nature of their relationship also makes them rather enjoyable to read.
Rogerson brings an exciting new book with Vespertine. It’s a fast-paced and thrilling story that will keep readers hooked until the last word. Rogerson imbues her writing with just as much humor as she does solemnity. She neatly wraps up the story and leaves just enough open to lead into the next installment. While Vespertine isn’t the sort of happy and uplifting story people usually think of, readers will still find ways to delight in Artemisia’s story. Additionally, Vespertine is a great addition to every spooky season read list.
Vespertine releases on October 5. Pre-order your copy here.