This picture was taken outside of the actual Met Cloisters. If I had read the book before taking a picture, I would have made sure to snap one in of the gardens.
In this debut novel, a circle of researchers uncover a mysterious deck of tarot cards and shocking secrets in New York’s famed Met Cloisters.
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.
A haunting and magical blend of genres, The Cloisters is a gripping debut that will keep you on the edge of your seat.
The Cloisters is a debut novel about a woman who leaves her claustrophobic hometown to pursue her dreams of becoming a Medieval art scholar. Themes of grief, loss, and ambition are woven throughout the story. I have seen The Cloisters billed as having some magical realism, but I would argue there really is none. So this is your warning to go in expecting more of a slow-burn mystery, rather than any magic or fantasy.
The first portion of The Cloisters is rather dense, with a strong focus on discussion of academia and the museum world. I did not mind this, although it made it a bit of a slow start. I learned a lot about the museum and art history worlds, which I did not know a ton about. While the vibe of the entire book is dark academia, the writing initially has a different tone until the first twist.
I was definitely surprised by the twists in The Cloisters. I was completely caught off-guard. For me, the first twist was excellent and unexpected. The second, however, did not seem inline with what was written about that character or the character’s prior actions. Similarly, the ending did not quite work for me. I felt like it was incongruous with the character development throughout the rest of the book. Until these seemingly out-of-character reveals, I would have said that a majority of the characters were well-developed.
Overall, I enjoyed The Cloisters and found it to be a solid debut novel. I think many people will love it, but I cannot say that I am one of them. If you rate books on vibes alone, you will love this dark book. However, if you want a story to be a consistent whole or need to like at least one character, you may be a bit disappointed.
November 1, 2022
Note: I received an advanced reader’s copy of this book from the publisher, Atria Books, through a Goodreads Giveaway. Regardless, I always provide a fair and honest review.