Review: The Vespertine by Saundra Mitchell

Book: The Vespertine
Author: Saundra Mitchell
Publisher: Harcourt Children’s Books
Release date: March 7, 2011
Source: NetGalley ARC
Website: (Trailers, interviews, period information, and more!)

Summary: (from Goodreads) Itâ??s the summer of 1889, and Amelia van den Broek is new to Baltimore and eager to take in all the pleasures the city has to offer. But her gaiety is interrupted by disturbing, dreamlike visions she has only at sunsetâ??visions that offer glimpses of the future. Soon, friends and strangers alike call on Amelia to hear her prophecies. However, a forbidden romance with Nathaniel, an artist, threatens the new life Amelia is building in Baltimore. This enigmatic young man is keeping secrets of his ownâ??still, Amelia finds herself irrepressibly drawn to him.

When one of her darkest visions comes to pass, Ameliaâ??s world is thrown into chaos. And those around her begin to wonder if sheâ??s not the seer of dark portents, but the cause.

First impressions: The opening chapter takes place in the fall of 1889, which we soon find out is after the events that span the rest of the book. On first read it is captivating enough, with Amelia being imprisoned in her brother’s attic, revealed to us as our “ruined” heroine. The brilliance of this first chapter is that as I progressed through the story, I could turn back and read it again, gathering more insights into the action. Just like the prologue to Romeo and Juliet, this opening chapter tells us of doomed love, and definitely got me interested in what events led to that outcome.

Lasting impressions: L’amour, l’amour! The relationship that gradually unfolds with Nathaniel is touching and mysterious and dangerous and…grand. Amelia knows she is not supposed to take an interest in this (by their standards) pauper, but she is intrigued by her strong attraction to him. After all, aren’t we always drawn like magnets to those we shouldn’t love? There is more to him than just his profession, however, and the more Amelia learns about Nathaniel, the more we understand why she doomed her reputation for him. These two left me aching for them.

Negative impressions: Every time I try to think of something negative to say, I talk myself out of it. I could say that I wish Amelia’s visions had appeared sooner or taken a more prominent role earlier on, but then I like that the reader discovers them at the same time as she does. This novel is perfection, and I can’t really think of anything I didn’t like.

Overall impressions: For me, this is that book. The one that you know you will read over and over again. The one you will put at the top of your favorites list. The one that means something to you, even if you can’t quite put your finger on what that something is.

Amelia is an everywoman…with a gift. She is eager and curious and shy and impulsive. She has this ability that she doesn’t understand, and just when she starts to learn how powerful it can be, it’s too late. She is rushed into the bustle of Baltimore, thrown into a whirlwind friendship with a bright star named Zora, and before she even has time to get her bearings, falls in love. Yet the story doesn’t run away from her as you might expect. No, this story grabs her and won’t let go, and I went right along with them.

Saundra Mitchell carried me through this novel with delicacy and ease. It swelled with period details, yet didn’t get weighed down by them. The dialogue rang true, and told us everything we needed to know about the characters. Zora’s mother is entirely revealed to us through her interactions with the girls, and she became one of my favorite characters because of that. Mitchell takes her time, revealing the details to us piece by piece, and I savored every moment. Each scene was like a sweet treat I wanted to take under the covers and unwrap where no one else could get at it.

For all of its lush setting and budding romance, this book really takes the cake with its ominous tone. Just as Amelia’s first few visions come true, she begins to foresee more horrifying events. You would think, given that we know how Amelia’s summer ends, that the story would lose its suspense, but it didn’t. Instead, my heart raced with anticipation, desperate to find out what would truly come to pass.

If you like historical fiction, even in the slightest, you should read this book. Amazing, vibrant, and touching, this is what great books are made of.

Rating: 5/5 stars

Interested in another point of view? Check out Small Review’s take on The Vespertine. There’s another review and giveaway at Fire and Ice.