The Cloisters by Katy Hays

Posted On 22 December 2022

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My Five Word TL:DR Review : Dark Academia meets Secret History


I will say before I start this review that I really enjoyed this.  It’s my kind of story tbh.  Beautifully written, gothic and mysterious.  A very impressive debut that took me down a book wormhole that I was often reluctant to crawl out of.

As the story begins we meet Ann, desperate to get away from her hometown since the death of her father  she’s on her way to New York to start an internship at the Met.  Of course, things go almost immediately wrong.  The post has become redundant almost overnight but before Ann can be delivered her marching orders serendipity steps in and an alternative position is offered at the Cloisters.  Ann jumps at the opportunity, not eager to return home quite so quickly, and so begins her sojourn within a mediaeval museum that practically oozes antiquity and is the perfect setting for a group of researchers passionate about their quest to uncover knowledge from the past.

I will address the elephant in the room.  Yes, this undoubtedly has Secret History vibes.  We have a young woman, quite out of her comfort zone, awkward and a bit gauche, taken under the wing of an ambitious professor and his trusty researcher.  Ann is keen to fit in and anxious to please and the circles she now moves in pull her along into situations that are unfamiliar and heady.  She is in awe of everyone and everything and soon finds herself being dragged into a race against the clock to uncover information until death comes calling.  So, yes, similarities without doubt – but – I don’t see this as a problem as the story very much follows its own path and it’s so atmospheric and beautifully written that I was simply entranced.

The characters.  We have Ann.  Socially awkward and taken under the wing of the beautiful, enigmatic and exquisitely rich Rachel.  The two are both remarkably intelligent and driven and although Rachel has taken Ann under her wing there’s an underlying tension of rivalry that always seems to be first and foremost.  You’re never quite sure if Rachel is simply keeping Ann close in order to observe her more easily.  Rachel is something of an ‘it’ girl.  She has a rather dark history.  Her parents died in a boating accident leaving her a fortune.  She’s very driven with an almost casual confidence that drips with entitlement.  The way she is written puts me in mind of something I’d expect from DuMaurier and in fact the story gave off that strange gothic mystery vibe that she was so good at nailing.

The setting is wonderfully drawn and easy to imagine.  Hays, almost casually pulls you into her different settings with remarkable ease.  The hush hush of the wood panelled Cloisters, the stacks and the mediaeval garden packed with dangerous specimens.  We take a trip to one of Rachel’s countryside abodes and then on the alternative side we mix and mingle with Ann’s love interest.  The broody gardener from the cloisters.

The plot revolves around the search for an old pack of tarot cards and basically boils down to ambition and rivalry, the desire to be the first to uncover something new and exciting but mixed in with that are a few additional red herrings that help to muddy the waters, particularly after one of the characters is found dead under suspicious circumstances.  I don’t want to give anything further away because there are a couple of twists involved as the story unfolds.

In terms of criticisms.  I don’t really have any as such although I felt that some of the reveals were rushed over a little bit, I felt like I wanted a little more time to really reflect, that moment when you cast your mind back and realise that those odd feelings of uncertainty or curiosity that you were sometimes niggled by were in fact leading to something after all.  As it is it felt like the ending was delivered a little like a bombshell, although it did have the effect of bowling me over – so there is that.

All told, I loved reading this and I would be very keen to pick up more books by this author.

I received a copy through Netgalley, courtesy of the publisher, for which my thanks.  The above is my own opinion.

My rating 4 of 5 stars.

5 Responses to “The Cloisters by Katy Hays”

  1. Timy

    This book caught my eyes on NG, but I wasn’t approved 😭 I’m glad you liked it! I definitely will keep an eye out for grabbing a copy for myself when I can.

  2. pagesandtea

    I’ve been looking for other books with a Secret History vibe ever since I finally got around to reading that book last year, so this sounds like one for my list. Glad you enjoyed it 😀

  3. maddalena@spaceandsorcery

    The premise is intriguing and since I’m not familiar with A Secret History, there will be nothing to compare it with… 🙂
    Thanks for sharing!

  4. Tammy

    The Secret Hostory comparison only makes me want to read this more😁

  5. Mogsy @ BiblioSanctum

    Sounds awesome, honestly it looks like right up my alley too 😀

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