Saturday, January 8, 2011

Review: The Vespertine by Saundra Mitchell

The Vespertine
by Saundra Mitchell
Release Date: March 7, 2011
2011 Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Children's
E-Book Edition; 305 Pages
ISBN: 9780547482477
Genre: Young Adult Historical
Source: Review Copy from Publisher

3.5 / 5 Stars

It’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 sunset—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 own—still, Amelia finds herself irrepressibly drawn to him.

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

My Thoughts
The Vespertine was an interesting novel with a lot of elements about nineteenth century society that I really admired.  There was a breadth and scope to Ms. Mitchell's writing that made the characters come alive on the page and made the time period believable and enchanting.  Unfortunately, I found the beginning of the novel quite confusing and didn't realize until later that the prologue actually happened after the rest of the novel took place. 

The main character in the story, Amelia, is sent to her aunt and uncle's house in Baltimore for her debut into society with hopes of landing a husband.  I adored Amelia as she was very practical and knew exactly what was expected of her in society.  She was somewhat self-conscious and unsure about what to do at certain functions and always felt out of place.  I loved the descriptions of her entry into society and the dances and felt as if I was there experiencing these things with her.  The rules and regulations required of young unmarried ladies almost felt stifling and I felt Amelia's exasperation and constraint against the rules as strongly as she did.  When she did break them, I read almost anxiously wondering what would happen to her if she was caught, although I already knew the answer to that.  Amelia's cousing Zora was a delight as well as she also struggled against the rules, but would never dare to break them in case she hurt her family and her prospects.  In some of the scenes where Zora and Amelia go to visit all of their 'superiors' in wealth in order to give readings, Amelia sometimes crosses the boundaries of civility and gentility and it is interesting to see the reactions of other people.  Ms. Mitchell does a remarkable job of conveying attitudes and expressions that would have existed during this time period.

Despite all of this, I found the novel to be slow paced and the paranormal aspect didn't appear until halfway through the novel.  While Amelia's visions were completely believable, Amelia's love interest Nathanial's paranormal ability was not. Nathanial was an artist who was also part of the 'fourteenths', men who are paid to make up the fourteenth person at parties as thirteen is considered unlucky.  His sudden paranormal ability jarred with the story and I couldn't buy into it.  While I liked Nathanial and liked the romantic storyline between Amelia and Nathanial, I didn't like the paranormal part of it at all.   And I like the paranormal.  The rest of the story had all of these beautiful descriptions of nineteenth century Baltimore and this aspect felt like it was just thrown in to make it seem more interesting, which to me it didn't.  I would have liked the story so much better without Nathanial's paranormal ability.

The plot was slow-paced, and although I learned a lot about Baltimore society which I found interesting, I would have liked to have seen more to do with Amelia's visions.  I think there would have been more repercussions regarding her visions than what happened.  I also found the ending a little too abrupt for my liking.  Don't get me wrong, I liked the ending, but it just seemed to end quickly. 

The Vespertine is an interesting novel about Baltimore society and the expectations and restrictions on men and women during the time period.  Ms. Mitchell certainly captured the time period and the descriptions are enthralling.  While I would definitely read another novel by this author, I found the paranormal aspect of this novel to be somewhat lacking and I wasn't fond of the abrupt ending.  If you are interested in reading a beautifullly written book as the historical research is amazing, I would definitely recommend The Vespertine.


  1. Fantastic review! It is too bad that the book ends so abruptly and that the paranormal doesn't blend well with the historical aspects. I am planning to read The Vespertine eventually for the Debut Author challenge and a historical fiction challenge. I hope I will enjoy it.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  2. Hmm...nice review. I'm so excited for this one, but I don't like slow paced books...

    Christina: The Vespertine doesn't count for the debut challenge because this is Saundra's second novel. Her first was Shadowed Summer (?).

  3. I'm glad you said what you did about Nathaniel's ability. I didn't get it at all. I didn't think it was developed enough and I didn't even fully understand what he could do and why he could do it. Outside of the ending, I don't think his ability was necessary to the plot. I rated this book 3.5 stars as well because I did like the historical parts and Zora. Thank you for your review!