Monday, October 3, 2011

The Vespertine by Saundra Mitchell

I’ve had this library book for an embarrassingly long period time. Thankfully, it’s from the library I volunteer at, which has no late fees. And it only took me a couple of hours to read the whole thing.
I was hooked from the beginning, which starts at the end, again. This book was better at starting at the end than the last one I reviewed was. For starters, not much time has passed. Actually, the book goes back and fourth between autumn 1889 and spring 1889. The book begins (at the end) with the main character, Amelia, locked in a room by her brother, and punished for her ruination. The book begins with such pain, such loss, and such supernatural intrigue –with Amelia’s evident clairvoyance that I could not help but read the whole thing in one sitting.
It goes from a locked, crazy woman trapped in her family home to a much happier version of Amelia visiting Baltimore for the first time, for the season, in effort to find a suitable husband. Amelia is innocent, yet intelligent, and easy to like. She reminded me a lot of Jane Austen’s Catherine Morland from Northanger Abbey –young, impressionable, romantic, and believing. Plus, there’s a real gothic element to this story with all of the interest in fortunetellers and mediums.
Amelia quickly befriends Zora, the girl whose family she is staying with in Baltimore. And together the two argue, play archery, dance, and flirt. There’s a lot of mention of painful corsets, lower economic wardrobes, and reputation. Besides trying to maintain a lady-like reputation, Amelia develops a rather supernatural reputation as well. She and Zora do house calls, predicting ladies’ futures after a successful, random prediction that came true. And of course there’s romance. Amelia is immediately drawn to Nathaniel, a man her brother would not consider the marriageable type for her. But there is definitely a supernatural element to the two’s attraction.
Between the hidden romance, the society dances and dinner parties, and all the magic, this book was just what I needed. However, it wasn’t perfect by a long shot. The author had this really annoying habit of skipping over scenes I wanted to read about. Sometimes a new chapter would start, and I would have to step back a little before continuing because I would be so involved in one scene that I would become almost confused when all of a sudden it was a few days later…
Also, the romance was definitely the instant soul mate/crazy passion/ Bella and Edward type romance, and in some respect it was nice; it fit with the story for me. But, really I never liked the guy, Nathaniel, all that much because I never got to know him. He was just the love interest and nothing more. And I didn’t really know his character beyond his good looks and affinity for air (which frankly, was rather cheesy at times with all the comments about always finding her).
I also kept waiting for Nathaniel to be the bad guy, and this kept me reading too. Though, he never really becomes what you think he will become. And I’m okay with this. You know from the first chapter that Amelia is ruined and kind of insane. And you also know it has got to have something to do with Nathaniel. And while you learn that her state in that first chapter has a lot to do with Nathaniel, it also has a lot to do with the fact that she’s predicted death she couldn’t prevent. She bore witness to two deaths that she could kind of be blamed for. Add that guilt to some rumors, an unfortunate sighting, and a fire, more assumed death, and all the quirky drama of before quickly becomes Amelia’s tragedy. And her tragedy was not what I was expecting, which made it all the more interesting for me.
So, besides the cheesy romance, the abrupt transitions, and the lack of character development for the men in this story, I still just couldn’t get enough of it. The back and forth of past happiness and current ruination, drew me in completely. I loved the ending. I loved the levels of Amelia’s powers and how they grew. I love how the people around Amelia took her powers, accepted them, cherished them even, but then turned on her the first second something bad happened. This all seemed so believable to me. I give this an 8/10, and I will definitely look out for more from this author; I just wish her future love interests would be more appealing/interesting.

For another take on this book, check out my friend, Christina's review :


  1. Thanks for the link. You also didn't like Nathaniel, I see. He was such an ass.

  2. Hi Nori! I read this one on your recommendation too and I LOVED it. In fact, I liked it so much that I had to read it twice back to back. The language is gorgeous, the historical detail is amazing and I found the characters fresh and likable. That said, I can't wait for the next two books in the series.

    However, like you, I was thrown by a couple things. First, SM's use of the word 'ruined.' I assumed that it meant that Amelia had been seduced and throughout the book, it made it seem as if Nathaniel might have intentionally been playing games with her. I also think it would have helped if the book were in chronological order. The foreshadowing was a little annoying. I wasn't so much bothered by the abrupt transitions as I was by some of the implications that they held. For instance, there's a scene in Zora's bedroom where Zora asks Amelia what she and Nathaniel did during an encounter where they spent an unspecified amount of time alone and unchaperoned. Amelia's answer is 'everything.' (??!!) And like you, I thought Amelia's guilt complex at the end was a bit Mary Sue-ish.

    But I wanted to comment on this particular book because SM is giving away her first unpublished novel on her blog. Here's a direct link:

  3. Thanks for the heads up, Jennifer! I'm super excited for this book now!