Sunday, February 27, 2022

Cybils winner! Vespertine, by Margaret Rogerson

I let the Cybils announcement on Feb 14 pass by with nary a word of acknowledgement. Allow me to correct my lapse. The Cybils winners have been announced!

I was surprised and delighted to see Margaret Rogerson win the YA Spec Fic Cybil award this year for her medieval sort-of ghost, sort-of Joan-of-Arc story Vespertine. Surprised, because it's not your typical YA fantasy. (No romance, for one thing!) Delighted, because Rogerson is a great author with a nuance and a depth to her writing that I keep wanting more of.

Assassin nuns have become a bit of a trope, because of course nuns could train to be assassins and that's just cool. Rogerson turns the trope sideways and gives us a nun trained to lay already dead spirits to rest—so there's more of a horror element to it. But there's also this odd comfort that Anastasia has with the dead: she would genuinely rather deal with a nasty undead spirit than talk to most living people. Undead spirits are predictable, they follow certain rules, and they don't judge her for her appearance or her complicated past.

Anastasia is a fascinating heroine: scarred but not frightened, because in a way the worst has already happened to her and she survived. Neurodiverse, possibly on the autism spectrum, though it's never defined in-story, and therefore able to relate to the world in a different way. She knows what she wants, and then the story throws her for a loop and she gets the opposite, and she sighs and deals with it as doggedly as she pursued her original goal.

I won't talk about the other characters because I don't want to spoil them, but Rogerson is great at creating really fascinating, believable people with problematic behaviour and motivations that make complete sense. She never has Bad Guys and Good Guys, because right and wrong are complicated, and everyone can genuinely believe they are doing right while they are doing a great deal of harm. Anastasia has to decide who to trust with not enough information, and all I can say is there is a lot of awesomeness that happens in the process!

It's a story with plenty of action and tension that really makes you think about the situations, and the characters' choices, and what makes a hero, or a saint. 

I eagerly await the second book to learn more about this world (and a character I haven't told you about because I don't want to spoil it for you!)