Sorcery of Thorns was one of the first eARCs that I read, and the day I finished it I ordered An Enchantment of Ravens because I was enchanted (excuse the pun) with Margaret Rogerson’s writing. Since then, she’s been an insta-buy author for me, and this has just solidified my decision. As much as I love Sorcery of Thorns, Vespertine is definitely my new favourite.
Rating: 5 stars!
Thanks to Simon & Schuster for the eARC of this book. It has not affected my honest review.
Content Warnings: 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.
About the book:
The dead of Loraille do not rest.
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.
As she unravels a sinister mystery of saints, secrets, and dark magic, her bond with the revenant grows. And when a hidden evil begins to surface, she discovers that facing this enemy might require her to betray everything she has been taught to believe—if the revenant doesn’t betray her first.
What did I think?
This review has taken me way longer to write than I would have liked, mostly because when I think about this book for too long I go completely feral and forget how to write coherent sentences. I’m going to start by saying that I am a Venom simp. I’ve read pretty much all the Venom comics I can get my hands on, and the 2018 movie is my favourite movie ever (I also loved Let there be Carnage, but maybe that’s a review for another day). So I was already predisposed to love this book when I saw Margaret Rogerson describe it as medieval Venom. Add to that a powerful demon and an undercurrent of religious trauma and I was in heaven.
Artemisia is going on the list of characters that I’m delighted to share a name with. She’s a Grey Sister doing her best to keep her head down as she works alongside nuns at a convent, trying not to draw attention to herself after being possessed as a child and living with the trauma of the things she had to do while under that revenant’s control. But when her convent is invaded by an army of possessed soldiers, she has no choice but to use a powerful saint’s relic and open her body and mind to a reverent far stronger than she has ever met before. Her journey turns her into a Joan of Arc figure, a Vespertine, and while some are trying to stop her from ever coming into her full power, others are shouting and screaming her name as she becomes their hero (I’m on the Saint Artemisia team).
The way that the possession was written was excellently done. There’s always a risk of this kind of thing coming off… icky with the consent dynamics inherent in possession, but I think Margaret Rogerson handled this fantastically. The way that Artemisia’s trauma around possession is handled is delicate and sensitive, and as Artemisia and the revenant grow closer and build rapport, it definitely doesn’t feel like there’s a power imbalance – which is helped by the fact that Artemisia is in control of the revenant’s relic and has the power to destroy him if she so chooses. Speaking of rapport… the relationship between Artemisia and the revenant is perfect. It gives perfect banter and I was absolutely melting as I watched them slowly learn to trust and protect each other. Artemisia is a compassionate and caring character and when I watched that start to rub off on the revenant, it made my heart warm.
I also really enjoyed the way that Margaret Rogerson explored the ideas of legends and saints and the way that she became a Vespertine and passed into legend in the blink of an eye.
Perhaps this was how history treated saints. It didn’t matter what was real, what had truly happened. Even as they lived, their lives passed into legend.
The weight of those kinds of expectations is heavy on Artemisia’s shoulders and watching her struggle to balance the needs of the people, the revenant and herself is incredibly powerful. I think I was just blown away by how much Artemisia felt like a real, whole person and leapt off the page.
The world-building had all of Margaret Rogerson’s usual talent and twists, and I loved the way that the spirits were portrayed. The way that a person dies impacts the type of spirit they become and the power that they will then display and it’s a clever way to create a spirit power hierarchy. I also felt like the myths and legends Artemisia knew were somehow familiar, the way they were fleshed out and threaded through the story made them feel like my own childhood stories and the world felt very full and real as a result. This, combined with Margaret Rogerson’s usual easy to read and beautiful prose, made for a book that I just know I’ll be coming back to again and again.
Release Date: 5th October 2021