Publisher: Margaret K McElderry Books
Page Count: 387
Release Date: October 5th, 2021
Series: VESPERTINE, Book 1
Rating: 3.5/5 Stars – Liked It!
In the world of Loraille, the nuns of the Lady are one of the few forces capable of fighting and containing the deadly ghosts that roam the land. They alone can perform the rites that ensures that a spirit doesn’t rise, and if a ghost does indeed manifest, they are trained to fight and destroy it. But something is organizing the ghosts of Loraille, turning them from mindless wandering creatures to a coordinated army. When one such army attacks a convent, nun Artemisia finds herself bonded with the convent’s holiest relic, one that contains the trapped soul of a deadly revenant. The church wants to incarcerate Artemisia for her own safety, believing she is danger from outright possession. But Artemisia believes that the strength of the revenant is the only thing capable of stopping whoever is raising the ghostly army, and so has reached an uneasy accord with the spirit. Together, the two must travel to the city of Bonsaint, seat of the Divine, and uncover who is making their own unholy deals with the dead.
VESPERTINE is an imaginative ghostly tale that centers on the unlikely pairing of a nun and a dark spirit known as a revenant. The author has created a world where ghosts are a real and deadly threat, often wielding powers that are determined by how they died. Those who died of murder, for instance, become furies, with a shriek that disorients and stuns their foes. Combatting these ghosts are an order of nuns, woman who are gifted with the Sight and are both able to see ghosts and are vulnerable to possession by them if proper steps are not taken. A ghost can be imprisoned into a relic, granting a nun a special power, and it is this fact that creates our story.
Artemisia is bonded with a revenant (who is simply always referred to as “the revenant”) early in the story, creating a symbiotic pairing that the author has understandably compared to VENOM. While the revenant does not manifest itself as an external force, it is a constant chattering in Artemisia’s ear, offering either helpful advice or disparaging remarks about pitiful human frailty in equal measure. The dialogue here is a bit hit or miss, as the sarcasm and a derision can come off a bit forced. But the slowly begrudging friendship between the two characters as they realize how much they understand each other helps balance out the rougher patches.
Aside from the intriguing system of ghosts, the other anchor point in the story is Artemisia herself. A traumatic childhood has left Artemisia somewhere on the spectrum. She has difficulty understanding other humans’ emotions and what causes them, leading to isolation and misunderstandings. Artemisia also frequently forgets to take care of herself in her desperation to fix problems. Her inclination to forgo food or sleep because it might give her enemies time to do something horrible elicits one of my favorite lines in the book. “Sometimes, if you want to save other people, you need to remember to save yourself first.” It’s such an important sentiment we forget all too often.
(I also want to take a moment here to give a content warning for self-harm, though never with the intent to induce death.)
Where the book stumbled a bit for me was a lack of emotional depth and flatness of the other characters, a problem which could possibly be intentional given Artemisia’s difficulty in connecting with other humans. Artemisia herself is a fully realized character, and supporting character Marguerite was a great foil and unlikely ally. But this is definitely a plot-focused book with most of the other characters fairly two dimensional. This was most frustrating when it came to Artemisia’s main antagonist; fleshing out that character and giving them a little more depth would have added a lot of weight and emotional resonance to an ending that seemed far too short.
But most of my critiquing comes from being a reader who values character over plot. If you want a rousing tale of nuns wielding spectral forces of energy, VESPERTINE could be for you. Surprisingly, given that this is book one in a duology, the events here are a self-contained story. While a larger threat is hinted at, the central mystery is resolved by book’s end, making this a fairly satisfying one-off adventure, even with another installment on the way. For those who’ve dreamed of having a snarky invisible friend who will threaten to rend your enemies while also reminding you to eat a snack, VESPERTINE is the adventure you’re looking for.