A girl in a gray dress and cloak stares imperiously at the reader in a shadowy forest with black ravens and mist encroaching from the background. A white raven flies behind one shoulder.

About the Book

Title: Vespertine
Published: 2021
Series: Vespertine

Cover Story: Excellently Drawn
BFF Charm: Heck Yes!, Honorary Platinum
Talky Talk: You Know What I Like
Bonus Factor: Found Family, World-Building
Factor: Religion
Relationship Status: MFEO

Content Warning: There are some references to past trauma / child abuse (not sexual in nature) endured by the main character.

Cover Story: Excellently Drawn

There’s no way Artemisia’s drab gray nun dress ever looked so chic, but for everything else I love the cover. It’s foreboding, and her direct stare (which is mentioned several times in text) is intense. The ravens and the mist making up the background gives the image so much movement. Charlie Bowater always delivers.

The Deal:

As a Sighted novice, Artemisia would love nothing more than to stay at her convent attending to the dead of Loraille. After all, the dead don’t stare and whisper rumors about you killing your family behind your back. But when her home is attacked by thralled soldiers possessed by the spirits of the dead, Artemisia finds herself the unwitting vessel for a revenant—a spirit of the highest order with a power that destroyed cities–at least, until it was bound to its reliquary and protected by the nuns for the last few centuries. Now she’s no longer alone, even inside her own head, and there’s someone out there who is bringing chaos back to the land.

Can Artemisia find a way to work together with the malevolent spirit overtaking her mind, or will she find herself a possessed and lost in a hunger that isn’t hers?

BFF Charm: Heck Yes!, Honorary Platinum

BFF Charm Heck Yes - sparklier and shinier than the original BFF Charm

No way Artemisia would ever accept my BFF charm, but if she ever did, I would know I was doing something right. Artemisia has had a rough childhood (I’ll let her tell you more about it) and no one would blame her for staying curled up in a ball in a corner or keeping everyone at arm’s length forever. But my girl has too much silent strength and fortitude to do either! Artemisia at the start has had time to work on some of her past trauma, but the connections she forges with other characters throughout the novel go so much further towards helping her heal. At one point, I even got a little teary when she started to open up on her own.

BFF platinum charm

And while we’re never quite IN the revenant’s head, shout-out to Artemisia’s constant companion; my favorite kind of reluctant ally: a snarky, smart, all-powerful yet emotionally wounded and morally gray magical being who makes me want to squeeze them even though I’ll probably bleed for it.

Swoonworthy Scale: 0

It would’ve been way weirder (and all kinds of ickier) if Rogerson made the connection between Artemisia and the revenant romantic. I’ll admit it may have taken me longer than it should have to pick this up and start reading because I usually want a side of romance in my stories, but this absolutely didn’t need it.

Talky Talk: You Know What I Like

I am rereading my review for my last Rogerson book, and I realize the two have a very similar starting point, which I like to lovingly call “the Frodo effect”:

“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo.

“So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

We’ve got someone content to live in the background and stay within their small but comfortable lane, and, then, BAM. Craziness ensues. (Obviously this didn’t originate with Frodo and is a very common story-telling device, but that quote immediately comes to mind when I recognize it.)

Anyway, my point is, many of my favorite fantasies start off this way. And along our journey together, Vespertine reminded me of what I love about reading fantasy. Interesting world-building with a cool magic system. Character growth that builds over time, with reveals coming at the perfect moments to put context to what we read before. A strong emphasis on friendships, morality, and self-reflection.

I get the same happy warm-and-fuzzies reading Rogerson’s writing that I get when I read my other fave fantasy authors that rarely let me down (Tamora Pierce, Garth Nix, Phillip Pullman, or Katherine Arden, to name a few). Rogerson is certainly earning herself a solid spot amongst those hallowed names.

Bonus Factor: Found Family

Characters Jen Jack and Grams from Dawson's Creek standing together

The revenant is prickly and rude, but it’s met its match in a girl who isn’t afraid to stare blankly at someone with all the social graces of a stone wall. Artemisia wants to say the right thing, but she’s never had much practice with a past that keeps her emotionally closed off. I always love a good friendship, especially ones forged by intense situations where putting your trust in someone else could mean the difference between life and death.

Bonus Factor: World-Building

Screenshot from Lord of the Rings with Frodo looking out at a magical city

Rogerson’s world of Loraille is a Middle Ages-esque European setting where the dead who aren’t consecrated properly can become malevolent spirits, depending on the nature of their demise. Some are fairly harmless, like children’s wisps, while others can cause plague or fire or blight with a touch. There’s Old Magic and religious leadership that is neither perfectly good nor evil. There was still plenty more to learn—which perhaps may come about in the second book. (Luckily, this book wraps up in a very satisfying way while still leaving future possibilities open!)

Factor: Religion

A circle with a map in the middle and multiple different religious symbols all around the edges like a compass

The Lady of Death is a mysterious and ambiguous figure in Vespertine: it seems she does deign to occasionally answer prayers directly, but her motivations are not always clear. Then, like anything, there is the human element of religion, and the idea that certain truths may have been lost or twisted over the centuries to suit a particular way of thinking.

Relationship Status: MFEO

I loved your siblings, Book, so it’s no wonder that I have an affinity for you since you share so many of the same traits. I’m not religious, but I have faith that you won’t steer me wrong.

Literary Matchmaking

Grave Mercy (His Fair Assassin #1)

Obvi if we’re going to be discussing death-favored nuns, we have to mention the OG, Robin LaFevers’ historical fantasy, Grave Mercy (and the rest of the great series).

The Girl of Fire and Thorns (Fire and Thorns #1)

A girl who is hand-picked by her god and religion for something greater but has a crisis of faith, plus more interesting world-building? Definitely shades of the Girl of Fire and Thorns from Rae Carson (a great series that keeps building to be even better).

Sabriel (Abhorsen #1)

And for more great characters with power over the dead, you gotta pick up Garth Nix’s classic, Sabriel, if you haven’t already (maybe a re-read is in order?).

FTC Full Disclosure: I received my free review copy from Margaret K. McElderry Books. I received neither money nor peanut butter cups in exchange for this review. Vespertine is available now.

Stephanie (she/her) is an avid reader who moonlights at a college and calls Orlando home. Stephanie loves watching television, reading DIY blogs, planning awesome parties, Halloween decorating, and playing live-action escape games.