Review: The Vespertine by Saundra Mitchell

Publication Date: March 7th, 2011
Harcourt Children’s Books
Format: Hardcover, 293 pages
RATING: 4 out of 5 Stars
Goodreads Shelf: FAVOURITES


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.

A gift turned into a curse.

Amelia van den Broek spent the spring and the better part of the summer in the carefree company of her cousin, Zora; surrounded by ladies whose worries were isolated to proprieties and catching the eye of a legitimate gentleman. But circumstances changed when visions of the future appear before her during sunsets. Soon after, her place in society improved, as ladies of different stature started calling on her to read them their fortunes. Her encounters with a certain rake added to the charm of living in Baltimore, as Nathaniel Witherspoon disturbed her in ways which sent her reeling from the tumult of her emotions. It’s all enjoyment until one of her ill-omened visions came into fruition. And she was unable to prevent it from happening. It didn’t take long until everyone turned on her and the languid life she knew briefly fell apart.

Hard to believe I waited ages to read this book; and if it weren’t for an ARC of The Springsweet that’s been silently prodding me to read it, I’d not known the existence of this decadent, lush historical romance. I’ve always had this rigid notion that historicals are a bore. But let me tell you, this book certainly was far from it. The writing was rich in lovely prose, the language and setting, authentic of the period. This paranormal period piece took me by surprise due to the fact that the synopsis wasn’t really generous in mapping out the other elements of the story. Nathaniel Witherspoon’s ability certainly was a delightful revelation.

I love the characters as well. The cast was lovely and thoroughly fleshed out. I felt a certain foreboding oddity everytime Amelia foretold a future whilst Nathaniel just made me feel unsettled most of the time. These two enchanted me with every sensuous and (not so) innocent encounters on top of their numinous capacities.  Nathaniel filled me with anxious impatience due largely to Saundra Mitchell’s cunning choice to make his appearance in the book practically scarce. Needless to say, Nathaniel Witherspoon was one of those boys who’d make you shed all semblance of propriety with one quirk of his brow.

Amelia’s relationship with Zora was also delightful. Educated in rectitude, these two just have enough playful impishness to make troubles for themselves. But not all were about fun, dances and picnics.  The story didn’t end with these ladies walking into the sunset with their parasols and their beaus in tow. It was bittersweet.

VERDICT: A period piece sure to surprise you, The Vespertine will leave you in awe of the general faithfulness the author took in transporting you to an era heady with proper decorum and gentility. The paranormal elements balanced off the romance quite appropriately. It was an emotional ride but the ending left just enough to whet my already ravenous appetite for the next book.

“You’re the only fire that consumes me.” And my wonderful monster, he smiled at that. He smiled at me.”

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