The Cloisters by Katy Hays is what I imagine Mary Shelley might write if she lived in the 21st century. There are elements of horror, a little romance, an eerie setting, characters that will keep you guessing, and an ending you won’t see coming. But more than that, The Cloisters seems to play with a lot of the same themes that Mary Shelley did – ambition and fallibility, romanticism in nature, dangerous knowledge, secrecy, and isolation. But where Shelley writes about what makes us human (or not), Hays writes about what agency we have as humans. Do we have free will? Is anything predestined? Or is everything just fate?
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.
Come tiptoe through the hushed hallways of The Cloisters, teeming with dark academia that whispers ancient secrets from the shadows. Mysteries smolder at the edges. What begins as a slow burn will have you holding your breath as you race to the end. The Cloisters is chock full of art history, architectural delights, and occult vibes.
This was one of those books that took over my world while I was reading it – casting a thin veil of darkness and tension over everything until I was so immersed in the characters and story that I was thinking about them and what would happen next throughout the day. Even almost a week later, I’m still pondering… the secrets we all hold, the dreams we have for ourselves and how far we’re willing to go to reach them. And whether any of that is our choice… or just fate.
Get ready to break out your tarot cards -I sure did!
The Cloisters by Katy Hays (List Price: $28.00, Atria Books, 9781668004401, November 2022)
Reviewed by Emily Lessig, The Violet Fox Bookshop in Virginia Beach, Virginia