In Loraille, the Dead are dangerous. If they’re not interred with the proper rites, dead souls can return in the form of spirits, ranging from harmless shades to rare and apocalyptically powerful Revenants. People blessed with the Sight can be possessed by the risen Dead, so Sighted children are brought into convents or monasteries to receive training.
At the Gray Sisters convent, Artemisia is different from many of her peers. She spent much of her childhood possessed by a violent spirit before the nuns found her. Now Artemisia has trouble connecting with others and no strong desire to try. She just wants a quiet life, performing rites and interacting with as few people as possible.
But lately, the Dead have been behaving more aggressively than they have in years, and the convent is unsettled by a harrowing attack. Amid the chaos, Artemisia is sent to fetch the convent’s most powerful relic, which contains a trapped Revenant. When the nun in charge of the relic dies, Artemisia must wield it to defend both the convent and herself against the onslaught. With no training in controlling the Revenant, however, she must rely on her natural ability and instinct to forge a tenuous and potentially heretical alliance with an unconventional, maddening spirit—an alliance that could be the only path to salvation.
Author Margaret Rogerson excels at creating fantasy worlds that feel lived in. In Vespertine, she draws on familiar influences, including medieval France, necromantic magic and a theocratic society, so that readers can fully engage in the world of the novel from the very first page. The book is remarkably psychologically grounded as well, unfolding in a first-person narrative that keeps readers close to Artemisia’s thoughts and her conversations with the Revenant. It’s a nuanced depiction of a protagonist who has been shaped by trauma and who seems, at times, neurodivergent. Artemisia’s intimate narration differentiates her journey in Vespertine from typical “chosen one” tropes and endears her to the reader.
Rogerson clearly delights in the gruesome and the grotesque, meting out choice details about horrifying spirits and unsavory causes of death. A few supporting characters (somewhat predictably to experienced fantasy readers) defy expectations and prove heroic in their own right. Vespertine blends darkness, thrills and satisfying characterization for an engrossing fantasy tale.