With an exciting premise, and unique worldbuilding there’s much to love from Margaret Rogerson’s latest novel, Vespertine. But if you’re looking for the usual Rogerson romance, this isn’t quite it.
What’s Vespertine about?
Vespertine is a dark, historical YA fantasy. The story follows Artemisa, an orphaned girl, in training to become a Gray Sister. It should be her job to cleanse the dead so that their souls can pass on. If this cleansing doesn’t happen, the dead will rise as spirits to attack the living.
But when her convent is attacked, Artemisa must rely on the very thing she has been taught is evil. Allowing herself to be possessed by an ancient, and dark spirit, is the only chance she has to fight against the dead that have come to Loraille.
With the revenant’s power, I could save everyone. But if I lost control, I might burn the world to ashes.Vespertine, Margaret Rogerson
Overall thoughts on Vespertine?
After thoroughly enjoying Sorcery of Thorns, and An Enchantment of Ravens, I’ve been looking forward to picking up a copy of Vespertine. And in many ways, this book delivered on what I’ve come to love from Rogerson’s writing.
The first few chapters are intense, in a way that grips you and holds your attention. There’s a grandness to the worldbuilding, and in Vespertine this takes a darker approach than Rogerson’s previous books.
In terms of diversity, I loved the representation of Artemisa as a character with a physical impairment – she has burned hands, and a dark past. Both of which cause her to be isolated from those around her. But Rogerson has deftly side-stepped the “not like other girls” trope that seems to often accompany characters who exhibit a difference from their peers. Despite her isolation, Artemisa does not come across as overly resentful. She actively combats those feelings, in favour of her integrity, right from the outset of the book and her interactions with the revenant further develop her relationship with herself and those around her.
“I’m not going to leave someone to die. Even someone I hate.”Vespertine, Margaret Rogerson
Due to her isolation, Artemisa finds people challenging to engage with. Her disability and background feels like it’s more than just a diversity checkbox, but rather influences all aspects of her character in a way that feels authentic.
But while the book starts off on a high note, some of the urgency of the plot is difficult to sustain as Artesmia wrestles with the spirit possessing her, as well as the desire she has to save those in Loraille. The pacing slows down and at times during the middle of the book that spark from earlier feels difficult to identify.
While the themes of spirit possession make for an interesting premise (and there’s some excellent banter as a result) personally I found them too intense for me. This isn’t a reflection on the quality, but rather a case of being in the right frame of mind for a book and I’m sure there will be many readers who enjoy that element.
I enjoyed the snark, and grandness of this story, with Rogerson’s usual beautiful prose and a compelling characters. However, what I missed most from this story was romance, something which has been a highlight of Rogerson’s earlier works—but if you’ve been looking for a romance-free YA filled with magic, battles and gothic overtones, you’re in the right place!
I can only express excitement to see Rogerson taking her writing in a new and possibly grander direction than ever before, even if reading this book wasn’t quite what I was hoping for personally.
Who should read this book?
People who enjoyed Bone Crier’s Moon by Katherine Purdie may find much to enjoy from the religious order and dark fantasy elements of the book. This definitely falls into the gothic fiction camp, which is worth being aware of in case that’s not what you’re in the mood for.