Thursday, April 7, 2011

Review: The Vespertine

The Vespertine
By Saundra Mitchell
Publication date: March 7, 2011

My review:

Amelia van den Broek is given the opportunity of a lifetime when she is sent to Baltimore to live with relatives for the summer and hopefully find a proper husband. The sights that Baltimore has to offer are thrilling and Amelia enjoys spending time with her cousin Zora though she does feel out of place at times. Then Amelia begins having unsettling visions that come true. Soon this "gift" makes Amelia popular as a novelty. She also captures the attention of the entirely unsuitable artist, Nathaniel Witherspoon. When Amelia's visions take a dark turn, touching the lives of those she cares about, can she do anything to save them?

The Vespertine is set in late 19th Century Baltimore at a time when there were proper rules of etiquette and women had limited options. Amelia's parents have died and so she is under the care of her strict brother August and his wife. August expects Amelia to marry well. They are not poor but they are not wealthy either. Amelia's relatives by marriage, the Stewarts, are better off in circumstance but not by much. This is reflected mainly in discussions about fashion and suitable husbands. There are a lot of descriptions of clothing worn by Amelia and Zora and other little period details but not a lot of historical fact. Social class is mentioned and there are tidbits about innovations and education. I did like learning about the fashions and customs, especially the idea of hiring someone to be a "fourteenth" at dinner parties to avoid bad luck. I do wish there was more historical fact but the focus is on Amelia's visions and her relationship with Nathaniel rather than the time period.

The story starts out in the fall with Amelia back in Maine and this prologue gives tantalizing hints that something terrible has happened. Though the reader has to wait to discover what took place, the shocking climax of the novel makes it worth the wait. The main part of the book takes place during the summer beginning with Amelia's arrival in Baltimore and the adjustments she must make to being in a city. Amelia and Zora form a fast friendship that is only cemented by time. They are almost like sisters but Amelia is more wild where Zora is concerned with how she is perceived and less likely to rebel. Unlike Amelia who falls in love with an artist, Zora gives her heart to Thomas Rea, the son of a doctor. Thomas and Nathaniel are also contrasts. Both are good men but Thomas is conventional where Nathaniel is a match for Amelia. Nathaniel and Amelia have great chemistry though it is hard to believe they fall in love so quickly when they spend so little time in each others' company. It would have been nice if their relationship could have developed at a slower more believable pace.

I also wish there was more explanation of Amelia's abilities. She has visions at sunset and though Nathaniel has a theory as to why, it is never fully explored. I also thought her easy acceptance (and Zora's) was quite unbelievable. Since she'd never experienced something like this before it would be expected that Amelia would find it frightening and want to understand why it happened but she comes to accept this new talent quite easily. Still, this is a fascinating story and I kept turning pages to find out what happened. The ending was unexpected, which I liked. I also enjoyed the writing style which is accessible to modern readers but still gives the feel of a different time. I hope that we will learn more about Amelia's visions in the companion novel, The Springsweet. I would suggest The Vespertine to fans of A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray or Anna Godbersen's Luxe series.

Readalikes: A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray, The Luxe by Anna Godberson, Prophecy of the Sisters by Michelle Zink, The Twin's Daughter by Lauren Baratz-Logsted

Note: I read an e-ARC of this book courtesy of NetGalley in exchange for an honest review


  1. I agree with you regarding the explanation of Amelia's abilities. I wanted more background regarding that. It's a good suggestion when you say that it's similar to Libba Bray's A Great and Terrible are so right! I never thought about that. Great review, Christina!

  2. Most of the reviews I've read for this book agree in the part of there's no explanation for Amelia's abilities etc. I have to say I didn't think of it, I was simply glad the language didn't sound contemporary which happens a lot in YA historical (not so much in not YA)

  3. I have been wondering about this book ever since I first laid eyes on its cover. Your review has me wanting to read it and find out about the surprising ending. Too bad that the Amelia's abilities are not fully explored. Perhaps a sequel will do this. Great review!

  4. I have requested this through net galley. But I have not got the chance to read it. I think I should read this book also.

    It;s nice to know that you liked this book.


Reading Extensively is now an award free blog. Thanks for stopping by! Please leave a comment. I enjoy receiving feedback! Due to increase in spam, I've enabled comment moderation. Sorry for any inconvenience!