Monday, February 13, 2023

Book Review: The Cloisters

The Cloisters
by Katy Hays
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Yes, yes and yes! Brilliant ending! Great levels of historical education, mystery, murder, lying, elitism of academia, questions about fate/destiny and so much more! If you are looking for a happy go lucky book this is not it. Although it’s also not grim dark or gory; it’s just a bit nasty how everyone treats everyone else and there is certainly no loyalty, trust or genuine relationship (of any kind) building. I believe The Cloisters would make a great movie!

The Location
My favourite part of all is that I got to learn about a wicked cool place in NYC that I am stoked to visit when I one day end up there. The Cloisters sound absolutely divine! Historical artifacts, poisonous plants, old old books, and more! I'm tickled to add this location to my top 5 must see places when I visit NYC for the first time. It's exactly the kind of setting that makes you think of intrigue, murder, occultism, and (the overall theme of this book) fate. I can only imagine how cool it is to sit next to a belladonna plant and know that you could consume a couple berries and be in dire peril. Yes I know I'm a bit twisted. (lol)
As an aside: I live in Canada, far from NYC, haven't studied Renaissance history, and never been that far East in USA; so not knowing about this place is not unusual. I bet most people who aren't in this realm of academia, obsessed with the time period, or aren't visitors or residents of NYC know about The Cloisters.

The Tarot Deck
I now, desperately, want someone to make a replica of the 1500s tarot deck described here. I really adored the notes at the back of the book describing and explaining each of the cards according to our leading gal, Ann. It was interesting to see Katy Hays link-up, creating takes or spins, the major arcana to other Greek and Roman references, many we all know so well. This unique deck sounds divine. And yes I checked, it's fictional.
As someone who has studied a bit of Tarot, owns way too many decks, most of which have never even been used (I just love the artwork) I can definitely say that the appeal of the mysticism and occult surrounding the use of the Tarot (as more than a card game) is definitely intriguing. Although I can't help but remind myself that it was created and set-up by humans, so it can only really tell us as much as we already know about ourselves and possible universal outcomes. Thus, (perhaps) limiting it's potential as a true fortune teller. Either way, it's gorgeous and I love the symbolism inherent in so many different interpretations.

Research & Academia
There is no doubt in my mind The Cloisters was well researched and that the author was well educated (she’s got a fancy PhD). I really appreciated that Hays showed the nepotism, favouritism, and elitism of the academia world. Having a best friend who got her PhD I have seen it (almost) first hand and can guarantee you it is nasty and definitely not about who is the best, smartest, or most talented in their field. Instead it’s about who plays the social suck-up game smartest, and I hate that. It was refreshing to see someone from that realm of academia put it on paper and admit to the cliques that happen and how competency is not the only consideration when it comes to placing people on projects, at locations, or into teaching positions.

I adored and appreciated the development and progression of our leading gal Ann. She goes from a bit naïve and very quiet (but self-aware) to really taking control. A girl outside her element in the bustling city of New York suddenly finds out, not only how hard it is to live in NYC, but also how much stronger she is than she thought. By the books end we've seen Ann's personality completely change (whether for good or bad I'll leave up to you to decide after you read it!). The introspects that are given into why we cling to certain friendships or people are certainly interesting. The idea of proximity being the first, can't be friends with someone if you don't know them. And the second being that circumstances and isolation can make certain friendships or romances seem natural and perfect from where someone stands; but from the outside it can be clear that someone is taking advantage of someone else. It can be so hard to see the webs woven when you're stuck in the middle. I loved how Hays shows this and really brings Ann and the reader around to a viewpoint that starts to change so many preconceived notions from earlier in the story.

This was a really fun book for me. It was dark at times, had just enough romance to be acceptable (I was so glad this wasn't overdone), and really emphasized the complexity of 'who gets credit when' paradigm that exists in academia. I'm betting, after reading this, the next time you read about someone discovering something historically significant you'll wonder whose shoulders they were standing on! You might also wonder who in your life has caught you in their scheming web. Although I would remind readers that most of the time people are better than what is seen here.
Ultimately, there is a long list of topics that could be discussed out of this book, but I believe the one Hays most wants us to consider is this: Do destiny and fate exist? And if they do are they set in stone, or can they be changed?
I'd highly recommend letting Hays take you on a rollicking adventure (if nothing else) that will have you flipping the pages quickly in anticipation of learning all the secrets entwined within The Cloisters.

Please note: I received an eARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. This is an honest and unbiased review.

View all my reviews

1 comment:

Leonore Winterer said...

Oh, this does sound good! Now that I made it out of that web of academia myself (just stuck in there with one foot or so until my thesis is all done and dusted) I'm really beginning to see how little I miss it. Some parts were fun, but others really weren't!