Monday, March 14, 2011

The Vespertine by Saundra Mitchell

Title: The Vespertine
Author: Saundra Mitchell
Publisher: Harcourt Children's Books
Release Date: March 7th, 2011
Pages: 293 pages (hardback)
How I Got the Book: Won it in a Goodreads Firstreads giveaway.

The summer of 1889 is the one between childhood and womanhood for Amelia van den Broek--and thankfully, she's not spending it at home in rural Maine. She's been sent to Baltimore to stay with her stylish cousin, Zora, who will show her all the pleasures of city life and help her find a suitable man to marry.

With diversions ranging from archery in the park to dazzling balls and hints of forbidden romance, Victorian Baltimore is more exciting than Amelia imagined. 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. Newly dubbed "Maine's Own Mystic," Amelia is suddenly quite in demand.

However, her attraction to Nathaniel, an artist who is decidedly outside of Zora's circle, threatens the new life Amelia is building in Baltimore. This enigmatic young man is keeping secrets of his own--still, Amelia finds herself irrepressible drawn to him. And while she has no trouble seeing the futures of others, she cannot predict whether Nathaniel will remain in hers.

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 of them.


Thrown into 1889 Baltimore for the summer, Amelia van den Broek's given purpose is to find a husband to marry and learn how to be a proper wife and young lady. While staying with her relatives, the Stewart family and their teenage daughter Zora, Amelia is fascinated by all Baltimore has to offer, including an artist named Nathaniel who seems interested in her too. When the sun starts to set, strange visions strike Amelia and eventually, some of them come true. Amelia and Zora's friends, all interested in the realm of the unknown, clamor to have Amelia over so she can have a vision of their future. But these visions may not bode well for Amelia in the end. She doesn't always see happiness in the future and when her bad visions come true, the blame may fall on her.

I loved the prose in this book. Fresh and flowery as a piece of writing might have been in the 1880s, the narrative voice Amelia provides matched her time and entertained me. Some of the turns of phrase are absolutely lovely. I wish I could name one off the top of my head, but I'm pulling a blank right now. Modern language gets a little boring sometimes, especially with narrators who aren't the least bit interesting. Having an itneresting heroine like Amelia with such beautiful language in her head was a good change from my usual reads. The other characters, left with little development, don't hold a candle to Amelia, the free-thinking girl who still worries about her reputation as any girl of her age would. Realistic heroines? Finally!

If you ask me, Amelia isn't in love with Nathaniel. It's a mere infatuation. Think about it: Amelia comes from the small town of Broken Tooth, Maine and she was probably somewhat sheltered or restricted. She's sent to the big city of Baltimore, a place very different from her small town, to find a husband. She's out from under her brother's watchful eye and hanging with her fun-loving cousin Zora. Then Amelia meets Nathaniel, a city man who is "free" from society's strict demands and traditions. Compared to the men in Zora's circle that follow society's rules, this man is more interesting and unlike anyone she's ever met. She is a small town girl infatuated with the mystery and idea of"freedom" from society that Nathaniel represents. Crush? Yes. Infatuation? Yes again. Love? Heavens no.

In addition, that "vision coming true" thing mentioned in the blurb? That doesn't happen until about page 250 of 293. Before then, where was the conflict? I suppose it could be Amelia's decision whether to be a good rule-following girl or a girl who thinks for herself and does as she pleases, but that conflict couldn't keep me reading. What other conflict was there to keep me reading, then? Nathaniel and Amelia's forbidden romance? That didn't cut it, either. Conflicts are beautiful. A good one makes a great book. This book had no conflict until the very end. Until then, the book crawls by as the adventures of Amelia and Zora are detailed. To be frank, I was reminded of Gossip Girl in how it's less about the plot and more about this person's misadventures and love life. There is a good reason I only read one Gossip Girl book.

Once the big thing happens, the plot jumps out from behind the curtain, does a strange dance for the audience, then takes a bow with all the other players. Then it's over, just like that. The climax and the action both happen so quickly that the events at the end of the novel--two characters die, for Pete's sake!--have little time to sink and and take effect on the reader. It's no use killing people if the reaction it's supposed to get out of readers doesn't have time to happen. If given some more page time and had the plot been more present throughout the novel, this would have been a good ending. A little explanation as to why Amelia and Nathaniel had their powers and why Amelia's visions didn't start until she got to Baltimore would have been nice too.
It didn't live up to all of my expectations, but The Vespertine wasn't horrible. It could have been much worse (though never Angel Star bad), but it also could have been much better. I've heard about another book the author wrote called Shadowed Summer and I'll seek that out sometime soon. There will also be a companion to The Vespertine called The Springsweet, which will come out next year. I'll probably buy it. Give The Vespertine a try if you think you'll like it, but be wary if any of the issues I talked about above bother you too.

3 stars!

What am I reading next?: Moonshine by Alaya Johnson