Updated: Jan 5
Release date: 1 November 2022
Narrator: Emily Tremaine
Book Boxes: BOTM
Synopsis: 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 was supposed to be a dark academia book that kept me at the edge of my seat with suspense and held me captive with supernatural occurrences and unreliable narrators to keep me up biting my nails with anticipation. The reality of this book is more like an old bottle of flat coke left in the faculty break room (that was yours) that someone opened and then put back in the fridge either because a) the person hates you or b) the person realized too late that it was yours and put it back in a panic. It fell very flat for me, and it belongs in the category of books that drag for a great majority of the first part (or nearly all) of the book and drop a shocking twist somewhere toward the end in the expectation that readers will completely forgive and/or forget the mediocrity they had to slog through to be rewarded with a tiny spark of entertainment.
Ann Stillwell finds herself out of an intern position at the Met before she even starts. I’m pretty sure any person who has been an outsider in academia could relate to this specific scene, with the dismissive attitude of the supervisor to the nervous feeling and pit in the stomach that comes with the wasted efforts of going a very long distance for something someone said would be waiting for you just to find it not there when you arrive. Contrary to what the synopsis makes us understand; however, Ann’s past doesn’t necessarily pain and haunt her so much as she is really a small town girl from a teeny, lesser-known college trying to make a break into the academic world of antiquity with paltry credentials and no connections to speak of to get her into the much-coveted museum positions she desires. She’s both a victim of circumstance a beneficiary of it, as while she’s getting fired from her internship before it starts, the head of The Cloisters finds her in the nick of time and offers her a position there.
From there, Ann researches the cards mentioned in the blurb and works her way through meeting each of the people she works with and navigating relationships with them. The rest of the book, though, did not have me at the edge of my seat as the synopsis promised. The story teetered between not getting to the point and then getting to it so quickly I missed it. The synopsis promises readers an arcane, almost supernatural experience at The Cloisters; it hints at the gothic nature of the artifacts at the museum and the mystery shrouding the curators of it, but the curators are not so much enigmatic as they are secretive and two-faced. When Ann joins The Cloisters' ranks and begins her research, I initially got the feeling that the story would follow a bit of the mechanics in The Skeleton Key. It seemed as though her colleagues were trying to get her to believe in tarot so they could use her somehow for nefarious, ritualistic purposes. In the end, it ultimately turned out to be a case of academic rivalry, and the genres that were supposed to blend together went up in a puff of smoke. There was nothing supernatural to the book at all.
In the end, the book for me was 2.75/5. I’m just tired of reading promising synopses on the back of books and getting something completely different. It always feels to me like a bit of bait and switch. I will agree that it is a bit like A Secret History, and I believe it feels like that and a cross between Cruel Intentions. It just didn’t live up to the impression it wanted to give. Plus, it was incredibly dull.
Narrator rating: 4/5. Tremaine kept my attention with the narration the whole way through, despite my struggle to get through the book. It really helps when an audiobook’s narration is top shelf.
My thanks to Libro.fm and Atria Books for the ALC, for which I willingly give my own opinion.