- A Cloud of Outrageous Blue by Vesper Stamper
Stamper, Vesper A Cloud of Outrageous Blue; written and illus. by Vesper Stamper. Knopf, 2020 [320p] Library ed. ISBN 9781524700423 $22.99 Trade ed. ISBN 9781524700416 $19.99 E-book ed. ISBN 9781524700430 $10.99 Reviewed from digital galleys Ad Gr. 6-10
In the brutal winter of 1348, after losing both her parents, sixteen-year-old Edyth is sent by her brother to Saint Christopher's Priory to serve the nuns there. It's dull work, but she is eventually assigned to work in the scriptorium, making dyes in the vivid colors she often sees when she hears certain sounds. She's learned to keep her "visions" to herself, but when a particularly strong blue overwhelms her and causes her to go into a trance, Edyth draws the eye of the mercurial sub-prioress, Agnes. Then residents and pilgrims begin to fall ill from a mysterious plague and it becomes clear that Edyth's gift might point to a miracle cure—much to the dismay of the power-hungry Agnes. Edyth's narration builds a rich picture of the Middle Ages, both in the beauty of the ink and the illuminating she eventually works on and the merciless reality of the bubonic plague, and her synesthesia gives a striking elegance to her descriptions. Edyth herself, however, is rather muted, and her grief, passion, and fear are dully conveyed. The petty drama between Edyth and the sub-prioress does finally turn into true tension and urgency when the illness takes hold in the priory, and Agnes becomes a terrifying villain, high on her own righteousness and hellbent on making Edyth's life miserable. The ending feels a bit abrupt, but the story's dark beauty may still appeal to readers. Final illustrations not seen.