Published by Atria Books on November 1, 2022
I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
About The Cloisters
When I saw this described as The Secret History meets The Ninth House, I knew I had to read The Cloisters!
It’s a slow-burn dark academia thriller. Recent graduate Ann leaps at the opportunity to escape her small hometown in the PNW. She’s going to NYC to intern at The Met for the summer. It also means leaving behind her father’s recent death and her mother’s increasing grief and inability to cope.
What follows is a summer of secrets, discoveries, and betrayals.
Curator Patrick chooses Ann as one of his curatorial assistants at The Cloisters. He’s determined to prove that divination is more than a game or curiosity. Ann’s paired with another curatorial assistant, the wealthy and privileged Rachel. Ann envies Rachel’s skill at seeming to get whatever she wants. Although as they spend more time together, Ann sees a darkness in Rachel. And then there’s Leo, a gardener at The Cloisters who moonlights in a punk band and sells herbs he’s harvested from the garden – hallucinogenic, even poisonous ones
As Patrick pushes Rachel and Ann to research divination, he’s willing to use the grey areas – purchasing antique tarot cards of unknown provenance. He even invites them to after-hours tarot readings using hallucinogens to heighten their abilities to foresee the future. As Ann’s drawn further into Patrick’s research, she discovers a hidden tarot deck that could change everything. And then tragedy strikes and what seemed like a harmless and eccentric game becomes deadly serious.
My thoughts about The Cloisters
The tension starts from the beginning and slowly and quietly continues to mount. Ann discovers secrets and her life slowly becomes intertwined with Patrick’s, Rachel’s, and Leo’s. Then the discoveries and reveals begin. Small at first – no big surprises to Ann or the reader. But the discoveries become larger and the stakes higher.
There’s an underlying thread of questioning free will versus predestination. And if our lives are predestined, can we see into the future? Patrick believes in divination and Rachel believes people always have a choice.
Hays does a fantastic job creating a quiet feel to the book but one with constantly increasing tension – the pressure to perform academically, to fit into the insular world of museums and academia, even the oppressive heat and humidity add to the feeling that some type of release or explosion is going to happen.
Told from Ann’s POV, she’s instantly sympathetic – an introvert from a blue-collar family who’s constantly had a tough time fitting in – now given the chance at acceptance into the world of wealth and academic success. But at what cost?
The behind-the-scenes look at The Cloisters – its history, gardens, and artworks- was beyond fascinating.
I enjoyed learning about the different types of divination and its history. To know that people once consulted diviners for everything, even commissioned artwork with particular astrological significance to positively influence their lives was fascinating.
If you’re in the mood for sinister, moody, arty dark academia, definitely read The Cloisters.
Thank you, Atria Books for the DRC!