Sara M. Harvey’s Convent of the Pure is an imaginative gothic romp that draws on less-explored aspects of Judeo-Christian mythology to create a new twist on a Van Helsing-esque secret society devoted to protecting the world from the forces of darkness. The use of the Nephilim (the progeny of the angels that mated with mankind in Genesis 6:4) as the basis for her story lends a flavour to the resulting conflict that is suitably Biblical. The imagery is engaging and the worldbuilding is such that the various sects of Nephilim seem perfectly believable.
It’s clear what Harvey intends to do with Convent of the Pure. Portia, the protagonist, is a corset-wearing, crossbow-wielding warrior of light, but with enough human vulnerabilities to prevent her becoming a two-dimensional badass. Her relationship with Imogen (the spirit of her deceased lover who remains attached to her even in death) forms the crux of her character and of the story as a whole. While the emotional bond between the two is well-written and genuine, it does lead to some frustrating aspects; Portia, for example, remains unquestioningly trusting and loyal, even when betrayed. At times it feels that, Portia, like the readers, is simply along for the ride; though she is the protagonist, she doesn’t feel as if she has a great deal of control over her actions. There’s also a clumsily-written scene involving a succubus where the emphatically lesbian Portia is seduced by an attractive young man to the verge of giving in to her desires, she before loudly declares that the succubus’ one mistake was not knowing her sexual preferences run solely to women. Given what we know of Portia’s sexuality, this scene doesn’t make initial sense, and then the only explanations for her attraction to the male succubus, (that she might be bisexual or that succubi might override sexual preferences) are immediately rejected. Though clearly unintentional, these oversights make for uncomfortable reading. The villain is also suitably pantomime (by no means a criticism – every gothic romp needs a larger-than-life antagonist), although the big reveal can be seen from some distance, while, given the limited time spent with secondary characters, it can be hard to feel a real sense of loss at their deaths as we don’t have time to get attached to them.
Certain quibbles aside, Convent of the Pure is an entertaining read. While it isn’t ground-breaking, it is far from by-the-numbers, and for readers who like their gothic, punky goodness with a Judeo-Christian veneer it is well worth picking up. Harvey has laid the foundations for a fun trilogy in a world that is definitely worth exploring further.
This review was given in exchange for a free copy of the ebook.