The Cloisters – Katy Hays

Published By: Bantam Press
Pages: 320
Released On: 19/01/2023

Ann Stilwell arrives in New York City, hoping to spend her summer working at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Instead, she is assigned to The Cloisters, a gothic museum and garden renowned for its collection of medieval and Renaissance art.

There she is drawn into a small circle of charismatic but enigmatic researchers, each with their own secrets and desires, including the museum’s curator, Patrick Roland, who is convinced that the history of Tarot holds the key to unlocking contemporary fortune telling.

Relieved to have left her troubled past behind and eager for the approval of her new colleagues, Ann is only too happy to indulge some of Patrick’s more outlandish theories. But when Ann discovers a mysterious, once-thought lost deck of 15th-century Italian tarot cards she suddenly finds herself at the centre of a dangerous game of power, toxic friendship and ambition. 

And as the game being played within the Cloisters spirals out of control, Ann must decide whether she is truly able to defy the cards and shape her own future 

*****

Thanks to Louis Patel at Transworld and Bantam Press for the early proof of this title in return for an honest review.

I was seeing this everywhere on social media that it got to the point where I wanted a copy just because of the cover, it drew me in and I absolutely loved it. They say don’t judge a book by it’s cover, but I think it’s perfectly acceptable to do so. This instantly captured my attention and got me interesting the book. It hooked me instantly and made me even more excited to read it. I mean, there are butterflies on the cover and I have a phobia of butterflies but I’m willing to overlook that, just this once.

I love the attention to detail with the description of the museum and it’s architecture and the art. It shows a clear love, passion and fascination for the subject, not only from the characters but also by the author herself.

I’ve always wanted to visit New York and The Met and The Cloisters, so this book gave me the chance to live my travels vicariously through it.

I was initially wary and suspicious of Patrick and of Rachel and my suspicions were not unfounded. They had their good points and they were interesting to read about but the was definitely more going on with them than first seems, and you’ll be surprised and shocked by the things that they do. I was on the fence with the main character of Ann for a while. I liked her and she was a good narrator but she always seemed a bit dithery, never fully in or fully out. A bit naive. But then again, she represented the reader very well, learning as she went along, always one step behind. And I enjoyed reading about her passions. I didn’t like Leo very much. He got under my skin and on my nerves pretty quickly and didn’t do much to rid me of that feeling. I felt he was a bit of an outsider, desperate to be part of this world, and just had a very suspicious nature about him.

There are a number of other characters like Ann’s mum and colleagues Moira and Louis, and Detective Murphy…but this was Ann and Rachel’s story for me, everything was just there to help them along.

It’s a slow burner which makes it more unnerving, thrilling and captivating. You end up on the journey with these characters, discovering things at the same rate. There’s a deeper understanding in this book of loss and grief and love. It’s got real heart in it, slightly more than I naively expected from a book centred around – for want of a better word – magic. There’s hidden truths and lies. Is anyone telling the truth? Who do we believe? Can we trust our narrator?

I want aware that Dark Academia was a genre but I’m here for it. It merges intellect with entertainment and a dark thrill. I wonder how much about the mystical and divination and tarot cards is functional and how much is true, how much Katy had to diligently research to make it sound so convincing and very real, without it feeling like an instruction manual to the reader.

15th century art and books is such a niche topic to write a novel about and yet it really works. It really makes you think about how much you believe in. Do we believe in fate or destiny, do we believe our future is set, our deaths are set, or do we believe we change things? Your opinion at the start of the book may well not be your opinion by the end.

At the I did want it to be more…more involved, more frenzied, just…more, but then I would appreciate the intimacy of it. I think overall, it’s right where it needs to be. The slower pace lures you in, the subtlety of the thrills and the lies are so exquisitely done that I think a faster pace would ruin it. Don’t see this as me saying it’s slow. It’s not. It’s a slower paced start, which I like, it gives us time to learn about our characters and helps us settle into the narrative. But somehow, it’s quick at the same time and you’ll find yourself flying through it.

The final few chapters were very visual and I could almost see the movie adaptation in my head.

I completely lost track of time whilst reading this. I even missed dinner one night because I couldn’t tear myself away. And let me tell you, it takes something special to distract me from food!

Such a promising debut and it starts Katy’s writing career on a high.

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