Review By Kayleigh

The Cloisters is a lyrical novel about fate and obsession set against the world of museums.

Favourite Quote:

We moved through another set of galleries, already full of visitors who were drinking in the cool, dark interiors where depictions of magical beasts mixed with the severed fingers of saints. I was drawn to these objects, to their strangeness. I stopped in front of a reliquary of St. Sebastian, a statue of his torso pointed cream and red, his sides shot through with arrows. In a little glass box in the centre of the statue, his wrist bone-or someone’s wrist bone-was visible. 

Rachel had stopped at a glass case full of individually painted tarot cards; one depicted a skeleton on horseback decorated with gold chains – Death. Another showed a plum, winged child – a putto – carrying the sun above his head, its gold rays cutting across the card. The deck was incomplete, but the wall label next to it indicated they were from the late fifteenth century. And although they were unknown to me, their imagery was familiar – a set of symbols that had haunted the fringes of my research over the years. Images I had always been curious about but never had the time or resources to pursue. 

Goodreads Synopsis: 

When Ann Stilwell arrives in New York City, she expects to spend her summer working as a curatorial associate at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Instead, she finds herself assigned to The Cloisters, a gothic museum and garden renowned for its medieval art collection and its group of enigmatic researchers studying the history of divination.

Desperate to escape her painful past, Ann is happy to indulge the researchers’ more outlandish theories about the history of fortune telling. But what begins as academic curiosity quickly turns into obsession when Ann discovers a hidden 15th-century deck of tarot cards that might hold the key to predicting the future. When the dangerous game of power, seduction, and ambition at The Cloisters turns deadly, Ann becomes locked in a race for answers as the line between the arcane and the modern blurs.

A haunting and magical blend of genres, The Cloisters is a gripping debut that will keep you on the edge of your seat.

I loved this debut novel: it has hints of intrigue and the occult, is set in New York City and has a young main character deal with some major life changes. 

Ann Stilwell is a brilliant academic who’s left her small Washington hometown where her father’s sudden death and her mother’s crippling depression is haunting her. She jumps at the chance to have a summer position at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, where she hopes to figure out her life plans: a PhD? A job in a Museum? But right from the get go, nothing seems to go as planned. She is told that her summer position has been canceled, but then the handsome curator of The Cloisters, the medieval art gallery that you can actually go and visit in NYC, stumbles on her just before she’s shown the door. Before Ann knows what’s happening, she’s spending her summer in The Cloisters with Patrick, the curator, his beautiful assistant Rachel who’s privileged and wealthy and charismatic, and the gardener Leo, who tends to the medieval garden filled with deadly plants. When someone dies, Ann struggles to understand what is happening and tries to discover if she’s at risk. Who can Ann trust? And can she even trust herself?

This book is filled with charismatic and sexy characters. The setting at The Cloisters is a character all on its own, and one I now can’t wait to go visit the next time I’m in New York. Ann, a small town girl from a blue collar family, finds herself way out of her realm in New York City, at the gallery and with colleagues like Rachel. Rachel is glossy and smart and Ann is immediately obsessed with her. The book weaves in layers of character intrigue, and readers quickly realize that everyone is linked in the small gallery. 

Throughout the book is some history of Tarot and it discusses the obsession with the cards during the medieval times to now and how humans are always fascinated to know about our fate. Is there such a thing as fate the book asks? As the twists throughout the book unfold, the reader, through Ann’s eyes, has to struggle with the answers. Who controls your fate? Is it you? Is it the stars? Are we all victims to our pre planned destiny? Can you change your fate? 

Ann and Rachel both struggle with these questions. Ann is desperate to make a name for herself, to get accepted into a PhD program and to never have to return home: since her father’s hit and run she has no desire to live at home. Ann’s grief is layered throughout the book.  Rachel is a poor little rich girl. Orphaned in her teens, she is left to balance her parent’s fortune with her intelligence and drive to succeed in academia. Rachel is gorgeous, wealthy, confident and charming: everything Ann wishes to be. Ann will realize that death also seems to follow Rachel. Ann and Rachel’s relationship was one of the most fascinating in the novel: sisterly, obsessive, controlling, it was a trainwreck that I couldn’t look away from. 

This is a quiet book that will sweetly encourage you to sit and keep reading. The scenes are gorgeously described and the characters and their dynamics pull you in. The plot twists kept me engaged and I tore through this book. Fans of dark academia will also adore this novel. I was obsessed with slowly gathering all of the strings of the plot as it unraveled in front of me. Because it’s told from Ann’s perspective we learn what she learns when she learns it, or lets herself remember. 

This is a gothic and vivid debut novel who seduced me with beautiful words and compelling characters. 

Thank you Simon & Schuster for the ARC in return for an honest review.