The Vespertine by Saundra Mitchell was released yesterday, March 7, 2011, in the U.S. in hardcover and eBook formats. It is currently available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble in both formats. (Although Amazon has been shipping the hardcover for over a week now.)
Published by Harcourt Children’s Books the print edition is 304 pages.
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.
It was a time of corsets and bustles and petticoats. Where people who came to call left a calling card and where young ladies only danced with those socially acceptable gentlemen who signed their dance cards.
But the freedoms and charms that the city of Baltimore held were thrilling and exciting to a young girl from Broken Tooth, Maine, making it near impossible for Amelia van den Broek to stay within the constraints of what was deemed appropriate.
Sent to stay with her cousins, the Stewarts, for the summer, Amelia was meant to make the proper acquaintances, elevate her social standing and possibly find an acceptable match for marriage. Her brother August’s hopes were high that she would no longer be his burden, but Amelia was drawn to a young man who was most definitely not her social equal, let alone just slightly above.
Nathaniel Witherspoon was an artist. Someone acceptable enough to be a “fourteenth” to round out the group at a party or to accept a dance with, but not someone with which to begin a courtship and certainly not of proper marriage material. But whether due to the vibrancy of the city or to her newly found freedom, Amelia finds his flirtatious ways and the unpredictability of his nature very appealing.
When she begins having premonitions of the future as she gazes into the sunset, her talents quickly become in high demand, giving her a greater sense of pride, power and wantonness. But when her portents of the future turn dark, suspicion is immediately cast her way.
What at first was a promising trip filled with possibility for her future turns into Amelia’s worst nightmare where she is seen as cause for everything bad that she has predicted.
The Vespertine is an elegant and beautiful novel which transports you to another era. It is also joyous and uplifting while at the same time tragic and heartbreaking. The writing is fluid and eloquent and is so well suited to the time period that you are immediately drawn into the world of 1889 Baltimore.
The exuberance of Amelia and Zora is endearing and it is refreshing to meet these two characters at this particular time in their lives, just before the responsibilities of womanhood are placed on their shoulders. Both girls were raised properly but still have that spark which fills their experiences with gaiety and the innocence of their youth.
As the story progresses the joy and lightness begins to darken, which you see glimpses of as the story moves back and forth between the fall in Maine and the spring and summer in Baltimore, until the story reaches its surprising end.
The paranormal elements, such as Amelia’s predictions, were essential features and added a layer of depth to this story that it might not otherwise have had. Author Saundra Mitchell managed to tie this aspect in to the story and make it not only fit in well, but a very real and believable part of pre-1900s Baltimore life – people were accepting of Amelia’s talents, even intrigued, but they were quick to lay blame when things went awry.
While it may take a paragraph or two to become familiar with the style of dialogue of the period, it will flow easily very quickly and the author’s writing will captivate.
This book is a must read. And, if you are not a fan of historical fiction, don’t immediately turn away from this book. It is not your typical weighty novel filled with page after page of period detail. The story is very much character driven, with just the right amount of description given to get a feel for what is going on in the city and with the remainder filled in by dialog.
Reviewer gives this book [rating=5]
On a personal note:
I was initially intrigued by the book’s cover. It was romantic and so pretty and with a title like The Vespertine, I thought I had to at least give it a look. And with the added paranormal aspect I figured there must be something I’d like.
I’ll admit, I did put off reading this for a short while. Historical romantic fiction is not typically a genre I read. The last book may have been Gone With the Wind. (And no, I didn’t read it in 1936. I’m not THAT old.)
But just one paragraph in I was lost. This story grabbed me and turned me into a fan. I just love Amelia. She has all the angst of a modern day girl but the propriety of someone from her time. She is only slightly impetuous, but enough so that she’s not the least bit boring. And I loved the fact that Zora gave her mother such a hard time, but you could clearly see that she adored her.
The ending may come as a shock, or a surprise, but I just had a feeling…(and I’ll say no more!)
This is absolutely worth giving a read and I’m so glad that I didn’t let the genre put me off giving it a shot. I liked it so much that I pre-ordered it even though my review is based on the eARC.
To learn more about the world of The Vespertine check out the book’s website here.
Book trailer for The Vespertine:
Thank you Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and NetGalley for the review copy.