Book Review | The Cloisters (ARC)

I received an advance reader’s copy (ARC) of The Cloisters by Katy Hays. Since this version is just a proof and not the final version, I won’t quote directly and will keep my comments general.

In The Cloisters, Ann is eager to begin her internship at the Met in New York City. But when she arrives, she learns that instead of the Met, she has been assigned to work at the Cloisters, a medieval art museum with far less prestige. Still, she goes, and soon finds a world of strange theories and compelling research into the history of tarot and divination. She befriends a fellow intern Rachel, is intrigued by her supervisor Patrick, and romances the gardener Leo. But the more she gets to know these people, the more she starts to wonder if there isn’t something true about tarot, and she starts to become obsessed. But things turn dark at the Cloisters, soon…

I’ll try to be fair—this isn’t bad, especially for a debut. But honestly, for me, it wasn’t that great either.

As both narrator and protagonist, Ann is okay. I enjoyed seeing through her eyes what life was like at the Cloisters, and trying to see past her perceptions to what might really be going on there, especially between the other characters. However, I didn’t find her own personality that interesting or fleshed-out. She feels somewhat distant from the reader, and I had a hard time discerning what her feelings were about certain developments. Maybe that slight disconnect was intentional, but it kind of backfired because it led to me not really caring much about her.

The other characters were more interesting, but also not really that likable. Rachel and Patrick are full of personality, but I didn’t really enjoy spending time with them. And Leo didn’t make much of an impression on me.

It also took a long time for me to actually get into this book, possibly because I was expecting more strange tarot-related events to occur. By the time something major and dramatic finally occurred, it was well over halfway into the book—and though I was relieved, it was kind of too little, too late. And even then, I feel like it should have been even more dramatic, considering how serious this event was. However, that might just be due to Ann’s aforementioned emotional distance.

As the story goes on, past this pivotal happening that I can’t describe without spoilers, the readers see Ann go through a transformation. Or at least, that’s what Ann says, though I personally didn’t see enough evidence of that. She claims to have become much more bold, ambitious, and fierce after coming to New York, but I can’t really pinpoint anything that felt like any of those things to me. I suppose a choice she makes at the very end could be called bold, but it still didn’t really wow me.

There was another small subplot that related to Ann’s father woven throughout this story. A lot of Ann’s character is defined by the grief and trauma of his death, and there’s a revelation about the details of his passing right at the end. But I failed to see what it contributed to the story, really, other than to confirm that Ann isn’t that reliable of a narrator.

In the end, The Cloisters has a decent atmosphere, decent pacing, and decent dialogue. However, for me, that’s about all it has going for it. Though the plot progressed at a reasonable speed, not enough interesting things happened until over halfway through the book. The characters aren’t great, there wasn’t enough dramatic intrigue, and I didn’t care for the main character. It’s frustrating, because this book had potential but ended up being a bit of a disappointment. That said, it will probably still appeal to people who like the “dark academia” genre who are looking for a new author. Just don’t expect there to be too much spooky tarot action.

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