Since her eighth birthday, Elise Friedman’s life has been marked by the tragedy of her mother’s untimely death. Now, at the age of twenty-one, Elise sets out on a journey to uncover the truth behind her mother’s past; she knows there’s more than what her adoptive father is revealing to her. What she doesn’t understand is that he’s trying to protect her from the horrors her mother faced and fled from in order to save Elise from the same fate. Elise’s quest for truth takes her across Germany and pairs her with Carson, a young man who, for all his kindness, hides his true motives for helping her. As Elise closes in on who her mother was and the life she was involved in, she discovers that the truth can at once be both enlightening and devastating.
From the very beginning of The Black Cloister, readers will find themselves hooked on Elise’s quest for the truth regarding her mother. She’s the kind of heroine who makes for an engaging story - strong, determined, unconquerable, real. Setting her narrative in Germany, author Dobson does a spectacular job of placing readers in the locations Elise visits, describing everything in vivid detail from monuments and architecture to the delectable foods she eats. Elise’s unasked-for traveling companion, Carson, does a perfect job of offsetting Elise’s seriousness with his cocky wit. At times the pacing can drag with a few chapters that feel similar as Elise tries to get answers by randomly showing people her mother’s photograph and getting nowhere. When the action picks up around midway, it becomes difficult to put down.
The subject matter of the book is something that always captures public attention every time one is exposed to the media: religious cults. Dobson delves deep into this world of her fictional cult, The Chosen, to reveal the disturbing and abusive tactics that its leader uses to brainwash his members into believing the he and his ideals are the one true course in life. He corrupts the words of the Bible and ideals of the Christian faith to suit his means and to deceive his young female members into believing that they must “spread God’s love” with their bodies.
Dobson does a frighteningly good job at showing the twisted mental process of a cult leader and a heart-wrenchingly good job at portraying the members who only sought a place to belong and were deceived.
With Elise being a woman of strong Christian faith and verses from the Bible quoted throughout, The Black Cloister discourses much on the Christian religion and history, but the story is entertaining enough where it can be enjoyed regardless of personal beliefs. Like Elise’s search for the truth about her mother, The Black Cloister seeks to reveal the truth of those who find themselves trapped behind the secretive walls of a religious cult.