Book Reviews

Review: The Cloisters by Katy Hays

The Cloisters is part an exploration of the occult and academic and part mystery. If you like the idea of exploring NYC through new eyes or academic research, you’ll have to check out The Cloisters! Keep reading this book review for my full thoughts.


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


(Disclaimer: I received this book from the This has not impacted my review which is unbiased and honest.)

The Cloisters blends an introspective story about choice and fate – with a taste of the occult – together with a glimpse into academia all grounded in mystery. Hays’ debut weaves a story grounded in characters. Not only in the character of Ann who is ambitious and needs to escape her hometown, but also of the people in her orbit. The ones who she becomes obsessed with and, in return, who are obsessed with her. It focuses on choice and fate. On asking whether we are in control of our own lives, or some other power.

If we’re just boats guided by currents and fated to land on unfamiliar shores, or to sink. This theme is transfixing and it gains steam as The Cloisters continues. Overall, The Cloisters is a slow book. Listening to the audio book and the narration from Emily Tremaine made the book feel quicker paced than it would have otherwise. Tremaine does a fantastic job of portraying Ann’s agency, but also resignation. I personally loved the academic angle of research and translation.


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But I can recognize that it might not be for everyone. There’s a distinct sense of tension, but the pace really kicks up in the latter 40%. Until then, Hays is focused on these characters and their relationships. The ways everyone has their own motivations and ambitions. While the ending left me with some questions – especially about the abrupt nature considering the lead up – I enjoyed this twisty danger set in an academia setting. There were just a few themes I still am turning over in my head. Can everyone’s choices be weighed equally against each other? Is there a sense of safety in believing in fate? If you like asking yourself these questions, then The Cloisters is for you.

Find The Cloisters on Goodreads, Storygraph, Amazon, Indiebound, The Book Depository,, and Google Play.


What is your favorite dangerous academia story?

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