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.
I always seem to be drawn to Margaret Rogerson books even though I don’t tend to fall as deeply in love with them as other people though. So, of course I was interested in her next book. I hear it was about a world where the dead does not rest, and that was enough to basically get me on board. Trigger warnings: self-harm for magical purposes, blood
Oh, this book makes me want to scream a whole lot for a very long time. I loved it so much.
Like, the world is so freaking cool. It’s not extremely vast, but everything about it runs deep. It’s extremely intricate, with different ranks for spirits of differing strengths. Plus, there is a whole religion regarding these spirits and their relics and how they are used. It feels full, which isn’t the best descriptor, I know, but it is true. It doesn’t feel like there is any detail left behind.
And I absolutely loved Artemisia. I love her so, so much. She’s thrust into the role of sainthood, but she couldn’t want anything less. She would rather face down an army of angry spirits than have a conversation with somebody. She flings herself into everything, wanting to do everything she can to protect people. She also has so much trauma tucked away, and it’s slowly unraveled through the book. In small places, she’s able to find her footing. But she’s also allowed to be herself. And sometimes that looks prickly, even if it’s not meant to be, and sometimes that’s needing the reminder to take care of herself, and sometimes it’s allowing herself to feel whatever she is feeling. I simply adored her. I also think she’s autistic, or at least autistic coded.
Also the side characters were simply brilliant. I did not expect to love them as much as I did. The friendships that form of tentative, because that is Artemisia’s nature, but they are wonderful. Marguerite is bubbly and adorable, Chase is just such a solid presence, and Jean is so sweet, and I was so happy his trauma was acknowledged and dealt with. He was a full person, even though he had his own struggles. And then other characters, who I think would be spoilerly to mention, were just so, so well written. Even there names seemed to fit them extremely well. Just oh my gosh, they were so awesome.
AND THEN THERE’S THE MONSTER WHO MIGHT NOT BE SO MONSTEROUS. Dear gosh, this part of the book made me want to scream all the way through because holy heck, just oh my gosh, it is spectacular. The nicknames, the snark, the disdain that slowly becomes joking, the relationship that builds, all of it makes me want to scream about it very loudly.
And the plot, oh my gosh, it was incredible. The way it was built, and the way that it twisted. It was extremely well woven, and it took an extremely sharp turn towards the end. I don’t quite want to call it a twist, because it feels more like a jerk in a different direction. But it fits so well! And the secrets that are hidden and revealed and it is just all very amazing and very well done.
This is the first book in a duology, but I also felt like it did a fantastic job on standing on it’s own. There are still threads left to be pulled on, but the conclusion is still a firm conclusion. It’s another brilliant aspect of this book, because it is so brilliant done. It wraps up one story, while hinting at the bigger story lurking overhead. I got a satisfying ending, while also very much wanting to know what comes next. Really, Rogerson is just a spectacular author all around.
All in all, I completely adored this book. It has a bloody edge, and there are spirits of the dead, and a crow, and a lot of snark, a main character I loved a whole lot. I loved this whole book so, so much.