Medieval history secrets, ancient tarot decks, a dark academia museum setting, and a close-knit group of coworkers who blur the lines between personal and professional... I'd love to live in this version of higher academia, please, potentiality for murder be damned.
Use of history: ★★★★★
"Death always came for me in August."
Ann Sitwell, a recent college graduate from Nowhere Important in small town Washington, has arrived in New York City. She's an art history graduate with a passion for esoteric Renaissance and late Medieval pieces with a bend toward the arcane—her niche topic isn't necessarily the most relevant, her internship opportunities slim. So when she arrives at the Metropolitan Museum of Art to find out that they don't want her anymore, she's paralyzed.
But then, a fortuitous chance meeting with the enigmatic head curator at The Cloisters, Patrick, changes Ann's trajectory forever.
The Cloisters, a gothic museum settled right in the heart of Manhattan and incongruously secluded, is a museum unlike any Ann has ever laid eyes on. Its history seeps from the walls, and priceless collections, artifacts, and archives all tailored to Ann's areas of interest seem like an unbelievable dream.
There's Patrick, the established curator and head of The Cloisters, who has amassed a small and cloistered—pun so very intended—group around him for his current passion project in the occult. He's searching for hints of the earliest tarot decks and their potential links between the Medieval and Renaissance periods. He's searching, unbelievably, for a hint of true magic amongst the earliest of divination decks.
There is Leo, the gardener for the magical copse of deadly plants in the center of The Cloisters' museum structure. Surrounded by plants used historically in poisons, medicines, and aids to the divine, Leo's orbit as the non-academic in this seat of hushed knowledge is an itch that Ann just might find herself scratching.
And then there is Rachel, Patrick's other assistant. Beautiful, ethereal, unbelievably wealthy and connected Rachel. Rachel is also interested in this same field of study and welcomes Ann into the fold like a sorority sister inducting a new member, teaching her all of the tricks and ways of life in this small, set apart academic pocket.
When academic stakes meet deadly games, Ann just might find that she's found more than she bargained for...
Welcome to The Cloisters.
I'll keep my thoughts short and sweet on this one, because it's all high praise. This honey-slow, lingering, and deathly divine story was one that I could not stop reading. The Cloisters is a novel that breathes, sharing its secrets and obsessive drive with you. Ann's journey through grief, her enmeshing into this closed system of claustrophobic academics, and the ultimate unraveling of it all was such a treat to read.
Obvious comparisons have been made between this novel and other dark academia titans like The Secret History. I agree with those comparisons—if you like the standard favorites in the genre, then this novel is likely going to work for you. But I'd like to expand that filter a bit. If you're interested in magic and its weavings throughout our actual history, if you're interested in tarot, if you're interested in the study of the arcane in any way... this novel will likely work for you also.
Looking forward to more novels from this author.
Amy Imogene Reads
Just someone looking for her own door into Wonderland.