by Margaret Rogerson
Genre: YA Fantasy
I picked up this book on a whim completely due to the cover. I’ve always been drawn more towards illustrated covers and this cover is quite well done. The main character, Artemisia, is featured and it’s quite a good likeness for her description in the book. But, I digress. I picked up the book for the cover, but stayed for the story.
Artemisia is a broken young woman (physically and mentally) who wants nothing more than to hide in the dark recesses of the Grey Sisters convent. She prefers the dead to the living and has no desire to do anything else other than cleanse the dead so they don’t turn into evil spirits. Of course, that wouldn’t be much of a plot if the book stopped there. Her peaceful life is overturned in an instant with an attack on the convent which leads her to unleash a very dangerous companion with powers she can't control. So she saves her fellow initiates, but ends up practically living on the run as she tries to come to grips with her companion and his powers.
I couldn’t quite put my finger on it till I reached the end of the book, but then I realized why exactly I enjoyed the book. It’s a modern YA fantasy but in the style of the old 80s fantasy that was inspired heavily by DnD. This book reminded me in particular of “The Deed of Paksenarrion” trilogy by Elizabeth Moon, though Artemisia, while a servant of her goddess, is not exactly a Paladin. She contains great darkness within herself and her journey is less one of redemption by the goddess of this world, but one of healing. Her companion is dangerous but he’s also the best thing that has ever happened to her in her entire life. She doesn’t end up fixed or normal by the end of the book, no, this is a series so there must be more room for growth, but she does grow and stabilize enough to make deliberate choices instead of always running. She is finally strong enough to deliberately don the title of Vespertine by the end of the book.
Normally something so close to the edge of grimdark wouldn’t be enjoyable for me. But this book has enough hope amidst the darkness to make for a very good story. Isn’t that what old style DnD is always about? Even in the darkest, most miserable moments, the adventurer will prevail in their own unique way. And so Artemisia did and will continue to do.
I look forward to the other books in this series. There is no word on when book 2 will be published, but I’m content to wait. This book was completely self-contained with no cliffhanger ending. It does leave a hook open for the future books, but everything else is resolved.
My rating: 4.5/5
Go read this book! And let me know if you agree or disagree with my review!