Margaret Rogerson’s latest offering Vespertine is a fresh departure from standard YA fantasy, with a romance free plot full of ghosts, nuns, and powerful relics. Pitched as Venom meets Joan of Arc, Vespertine captures a bleak, grey toned world that will likely resonate with fans of gritty stories like The Witcher.
Nuns, spirits, and a dangerous alliance
The story follows Artemisia, a young nun in training. She lives in a world where the dead will return as dangerous spirits if they are not properly cleansed before their burial. When a group of possessed soldiers attack her convent, Artemisia ends up awakening a revenant (an incredibly dangerous, ancient spirt bound to a saint’s relic) in order to protect her fellow nuns. The two form a tense bond, with Artemisia struggling to keep the malicious spirit from completely possessing her body.
While Artemesia is taken captive for being possessed by a revenant, she learns that the spirits attacking her convent were not just a freak event.
Something is out there, dark and dangerous, stirring the spirits to action.
However, only a vespertine (a priestess who has been trained to wield a high relic) has any hope of stopping such a strong force of evil. But with all knowledge of vespertines being long lost history, Artemisia’s only hope of keeping the kingdom safe is in the revenant itself, if it doesn’t consume her first.
The good: quality writing and snarky venom
Fans of Margaret Rogerson will notice that this book is quite different form her normal fair of lush, romantic fantasy. There is no love interest here. And some readers may be put off by that. I definitely was at first. However, the quality is of the same calibre. We have a detailed world that Rogerson knows how to describe without exposition dumping, and memorable leads that stand out for the heaping pile of YA Fantasy protagonists.
The world is a highly religious one, ruled by a clerisy, rather than say a standard monarchy. Its dark grey overtones, dreary buildings, and spirit filled lands remind me of the The Witcher or even Dark Souls.
However, the best part of the story is hands down the relationship between Artemisia and the revenant. Its quick wit and utter disdain for its weak human vessel is what kept me turning the pages. It made me crave stories with this kind of dynamic. I loved the closeness between the two, and watching that closeness come from a need of mutual survival, instead of friendship.
The not as good: a closed off nun
With that said, it’s not all rainbows and butterflies for this story.
Artemisia was a difficult protagonist for me to get behind. She is closed off, and prefers animals and the dead to real people. While I can understand the feeling as a fellow introvert, her personality makes her come off as cold to the reader. It feels like I shouldn’t be enjoying this story with her, and I’m intruding on her space. A weird sensation to be sure.
The stakes for this story also feel a little low. With Artemisia becoming basically invincible through the power of the revenant, I became less interested in the actual plot and what was going on. I ended up just staying for the witty commentary from the revenant.
Of course, I understand this story is largely inspired by Joan of Arc, a fascinating heroine of history. I did enjoy seeing Artemisia go from a nobody to basically a saint that the people praised. It was interesting to watch her struggle with the sudden spotlight, like watching children play and pretend that they’re her, fighting an army of spirits.
A good story that might not be for everyone
In the end, Vespertine might not be everyone’s cup of tea. It is not a romance in the slightest, and relies heavily on the plot to carry the story. It is different from Rogerson’s normal work, which of course means there is a chance for disappointment. But, I recommend that fans of her previous novels give it a read. You may be surprised.
I am interested to see where Vespertine #2 takes Artemisia and the revenant next.