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The Cloisters by Katy Hays

Gothic fiction

The Cloisters


We love supporting debut authors. Congrats, Katy Hays, on your first book!

by Katy Hays

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Quick take

You may want to dust off that art history degree or check your star chart while reading this story of tarot & museums.

Good to know

  • Illustrated icon, Supernatural


  • Illustrated icon, Academic


  • Illustrated icon, NYC


  • Illustrated icon, Glamorous



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.

Free sample

Get an early look from the first pages of The Cloisters.

The Cloisters


Death always visited me in August. A slow and delicious month we turned into something swift and brutal. The change, quick as a card trick.

I should have seen it coming. The way the body would be laid out on the library floor, the way the gardens would be torn apart by the search. The way our jealousy, greed, and ambition were waiting to devour us all, like a snake eating its own tail. The ouroboros. And even though I know the dark truths we hid from one another that summer, some part of me still longs for The Cloisters, for the person I was before.

I used to think it might have gone either way. That I might have said no to the job or to Leo. That I might never have gone to Long Lake that summer night. That the coroner, even, might have decided against an autopsy. But those choices were never mine to make. I know that now.

I think a lot about luck these days. Luck. Probably from the Middle High German glück, meaning fortune or happy accident. Dante called Fortune the ministra di Dio, or the minister of God. Fortune, just an old-fashioned word for fate. The ancient Greeks and Romans did everything in the service of Fate. They built temples in its honor and bound their lives to its caprices. They consulted sibyls and prophets. They scried the entrails of animals and studied omens. Even Julius Caesar is said to have crossed the Rubicon only after casting a pair of dice. Iacta alea est—the die is cast. The entire fate of the Roman Empire depended on that throw. At least Caesar was lucky once.

What if our whole life—how we live and die—has already been decided for us? Would you want to know, if a roll of the dice or a deal of the cards could tell you the outcome? Can life be that thin, that disturbing? What if we are all just Caesar? Waiting on our lucky throw, refusing to see what waits for us in the ides of March.

It was easy, at first, to miss the omens that haunted The Cloisters that summer. The gardens always spilling over with wildflowers and herbs, terra-cotta pots planted with lavender, and the pink lady apple tree, blooming sweet and white. The air so hot, our skin stayed damp and flushed. An inescapable future that found us, not the other way around. An unlucky throw. One that I could have foreseen, if only I—like the Greeks and Romans—had known what to look for.

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Why I love it

I have always found tarot cards strangely appealing. I’m not superstitious, and I don’t believe in divination, but I’ll admit it: I’ve played tarot cards a few times with my friends.

Okay, more than a few times.

We pour a glass of wine, someone suggests a quick reading . . . and I think, why not? But what never fails to astound me is that every time—and I mean, every time—the cards are spot-on. Work issues, relationships, the exact-advice-I-needed-that-day . . . it’s baffling. Inexplicable.

So I was utterly delighted to get my hands on an early copy of The Cloisters, a book about several ambitious researchers in New York City who are on the hunt for the elusive truth of ancient tarot. They have much to gain if they can unlock the mysteries ahead of them, and even more to lose if they fail. As a long and stifling summer transpires, their cutthroat pursuit of the truth—and each other—begins to fester. No one and nothing can be trusted—not even the rare deck of tarot cards the researchers eventually track down.

It’s hard to believe this is Katy Hays’s debut. The confident voice, the clever crafting of the narrative, and the realness of the characters’ motives and longings all result in a story that we’d expect from a seasoned author.

The Cloisters is not to be missed but you may be tempted to turn a few cards yourself while reading, so keep a tarot deck close.

Member ratings (7,437)

  • Samantha H.

    Crestwood, KY

    ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️/5: overall very good story but needed more depth. wish it had gone on more & that it dived deeper into some of Rachel’s past - she felt stereotypical & the twist w/ Ann at the end felt off.

  • Heather H.

    Ceredo, WV

    Dark academia at its finest and I LOVE the attention to detail! Ann Stilwell is my new heroine and I adore her! Love reading this! Repeat read for sure! Run don’t walk! Savor don’t skim! Perfect! 5 ❤️

  • Kelly D.

    Tallahassee, FL

    This was so well researched and written! I enjoyed it even though I don’t know a lot about tarot cards. It was not quite as gripping as some other mysteries I’ve read but overall really a great read!

  • Sarah H.

    Worthington, OH

    I’m not sure what I expected when I picked this book, but I am glad I picked it. I loved the writing style, twists & turns, and the constant look of fate. Murder and supernatural; what’s not to like!?

  • Jessica M.

    Saginaw, MI

    Beautifully written story! This book is packed with curiosity & knowledge. A magical yet skeptical world built around the origin of fate & one’s ability to stack the deck so favor is in their cards.????

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