This is another one of those books I picked up months ago (at a conference) and only now have had the extreme pleasure of reading! I met the author when I picked this one up. She had no line in front of her, and I remember not even realizing who she was until I was right up in her face, by which point I was all, “I loved The Vespertine!” I honestly don’t remember much about what we talked about, but I know we chatted for a little while until she did develop a line (behind me), and I just felt so special being able to talk with Saundra Mitchell for a bit –because she is awesome.
She even signed the book in a pretty, light blue sharpie that matches with the colors of the cover. And these book covers are always so pretty! I really enjoyed the first book in the series, and I was a little surprised to learn of a sequel because I sort of remember the last book ending with a big bang of a fire, gun wounds, and a main character in ruins (with a final inkling of hope). It was a good ending. And I sort of went into this book thinking it would be a continuation of The Vespertine and it wasn’t. It’s about Zora, the best friend/cousin of the MC, Amelia, in the first book.
And I actually liked this book more than the first book because I really just liked Zora more. She really has become so much more than that girly best friend character. And frankly, whereas I remember Amelia coming off as rather weak, Zora is the epitome of strength. It begins with Zora in a not so good place. During the epic bang of the finale of the first book, Zora lost the boy she loved (who she was engaged to marry). She starts off much like how Amelia ended: really depressed. She gets it in her head though that she would enjoy moving out west to live with her widowed aunt.
She believes her cousin, Amelia, to be dead because of a letter written to her mother. And after a poor attempt at attending a dance, she purposely makes a spectacle of herself, and publicly kisses a stranger in front of everyone. Her mother then has to send her to go live with her aunt. And while Zora expects that the living arrangements in the west will be different and the work will be hard, she had no idea that she would be living in a one-room hut, and doing chores like making her own soap.
It turns out the guy Zora kissed at the dance, followed her to the west because he was already in love with her before they kissed. Too bad for him, Zora refuses to barely look at any males and spends a lot of her time focused on her dead fiancé. Or at least that is what she keeps telling herself to do whenever Emerson is near by. On her initial carriage ride to her aunt’s, Zora’s carriage is robbed, and instead of letting it all happen quietly like the rest of the carriage, Zora is foolishly brave and stands up for herself (and well, her belongings –mostly non-profitable memories of her dead boyfriend). The carriage then decides to leave her stranded. After walking for some time, with nothing, Zora is picked up by Emerson who saves the day.
Too bad the whole world seems to hate Emerson (particularly Zora’s aunt, who runs him away with her shotgun when he drops Zora off). The people in town think of him as a robber because he cheated people on land when people first arrived out west. Though, if it weren’t for Emerson, Zora would never have realized her supernatural ability to find water. She told him his well was in the wrong spot and when he jokingly asked her where it should be, she told him and it turned out she was right. And as the story moves forward and Zora learns to live along with her grief, learns to work hard, and learns to love her aunt and little cousin, she learns how to use her gift. She also learns that Emerson has an ability of his own. He’s really good at growing things, unnaturally good at it. He helps Zora’s garden grow in return for helping him with his water situation.
When Zora’s aunt realizes her skill, Zora is convinced to go around town to tell people where to dig their wells (for a fee of course!) And even though Zora knows how well going around town with a “magical” ability worked out for her cousin, she does it because her aunt really needs to the money to buy a cow.
There’s a small smidgen of magic, lots of grief, some wonderful new characters, a western lifestyle rarely mentioned in YA, more fires, some Western style land disputes, fights, and lots of love. The love and romance in this book is the slow developing kind, the kind where the characters really learn a lot about each other before diving into anything. Zora outright refuses to fall for Emerson’s charms until he tells her his story. And even though the guy who followed her cross country after a single kiss pretty much announces his intent to marry her, Zora refuses to take an easy out. She chooses love over comfort and money.
And I just love how much spunk Zora has! She never backs down in a fight. She refuses to let thieves get away with stealing! She cheats a cheater with her powers. She uses her abilities to help her family. She loves her family more than anything. And she adapts to a completely different kind of lifestyle without even trying. She’s brave and so strong in her convictions about what is right. I also loved Emerson and his rough kind of honesty. I loved Zora’s aunt and how strong she was too, barely older than Zora and raising a child on her own in terrible circumstances.
The best part though is the writing. Mitchell wrote about this setting and this time period so beautifully! Everything just flowed. And it was so easy to get lost in the language and the time of this story. The little supernatural elements blended in nicely and I liked that they were not the major focus of the book. I was really impressed with this. I loved the ending! There was a definite cliffhanger with hints of a book 3 that will include characters from both novels. I give this one a 10/10. I loved it.