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.
Ann Stilwell wants nothing more than to escape her hometown of Walla Walla, but thanks to her unique choice of studying at college, she struggles to find anywhere to accept her, that is until she receives an offer to work as a curatorial associate at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. But things don’t always go to plan and instead Ann finds herself assigned to The Cloisters, a gothic museum and garden renowned for it’s medieval art collection. Ann, desperate to escape her painful past, is quickly enamoured with The Cloisters and the people who work there, and quickly finds herself drawn into their research on Tarot and divination. Ann wouldn’t necessarily call herself a believer, but after her first time reading cards, she can’t deny there is a certain kind of magic to it, so when she discovers a deck that might hold the key to predicting the future, she isn’t sure whether she wants to share it with the other researchers or keep what she’s found to herself. The Cloisters is filled with ambitious people skilled in the arts of deception, seduction, and Ann quickly finds herself locked in a battle between reality and the arcane.
Ann is a character you can’t help but empathise with. Someone who wants to escape their tragic past, to leave their hometown behind and start afresh somewhere new. She’s a deeply complicated character, in some ways so incredibly naive and in others duplicitous and self-interested. On entering The Cloisters she quickly finds herself in a world she could never envision herself in, a world of seduction, of deception and ambition, a world where meek Ann from Walla Walla feels slightly in over her head. Her need to be included, to feel like she belongs with this group of people makes her somewhat of an unreliable narrator, mainly because she is never willing to see what’s right in front of her, and because of that we spend the majority of the story unsure who we can trust. Who is actually Ann’s friend, and who is using her for their own ambition, for her own naivety.
Our side characters are kept as quite a close knit group, which in turn adds to the allurement of the story. We feel, though Ann, that we get a deeper insight into them. Leo, the gardener whose seduction Ann would quite like to fall under. Patrick, the curator for The Cloisters who picked Ann out of seeming obscurity to work there and who fills her with both anticipation and uneasiness whenever he is around. And Rachel, someone so effortlessly captivating, she has everything that Ann wants & she is everything Ann wants to become. There are other characters dotted throughout, some that add to the danger & mystery of the story, and others to give us a better understanding of our main cast, but Hays keep’s it incredibly small, which means we get a better awareness of all of them.
It’s easy to see that this book is written by someone who has studied in the field for a significant period of time. Hays has certainly done her research into Tarot and the arcane for this story and it absolutely shows. The depth we get, not just of characters, but of information, of art and research and history all adds to the intriguing darkness filled story line. We see how easy it is to become obsessed with something that has taken up such a large portion of your life, but also how that obsession and ambition bleeds into those around you. It’s the perfect Dark Academia read, and Hays uses the research into the Arcane, Ann’s almost belief that the Tarot can indeed predict the future, to bring the perfect balance of magic and mundane to the story.
If there was one word I could use to sum up this story it would be seductive. Everything about it from the story line, the characters, setting & the writing is incredibly alluring, and it’s easy to find yourself drawn into the pages, unable to put the book down. Hays writing style brings The Cloisters in all it’s gothic beauty to life, making it almost a character in it’s own right, and it’s hard not to feel drawn to the place, especially viewing it through the eyes if Ann who is captivated by it, not just by it’s beauty, but it’s danger and darkness. Hays manages to bring a heightened sense of danger, of anticipation of what is to come, and this shows, not only in the more tense scenes, but even the more mundane ones. It’s not a fast read, but you feel as though you are constantly on edge whilst reading, always watching, waiting for something to happen, and that means that, though the story is of a slower pace, you find it incredibly hard to stop reading at any point.
I adored this story. Hays prose blew me away and I can’t tell you how many sections of the book I highlighted because the writing was just *chefs kiss.* The story line was intense, and managed to keep that intensity through even the more mundane scenes which is something I rarely see. If you enjoy books with complicated characters, plot twists, just the right amount of magic and a story that will keep you hooked from page one, you need to add this one to your TBR’s immediately! I can’t wait to see what the author has in store for us next.