Title: The Vespertine
Author: Saundra Mitchell
Genre: YA Historical/Paranormal
Series: The Vespertine (Book 1)
Publication Date: March 7, 2011
Format: Paperback, 320 Pages
ISBN-10: 0547721935 (Harcourt)
ISBN-13: 978-0547721934 (Harcourt)
Reviewed by: Macie
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.
Quick & Dirty: Romance and paranormal talents consume the life of one teenage girl in Victorian America leaving a path of death and destruction in her path.
Opening Sentence: I woke in Oakhaven, entirely ruined.
Set in late 19th Century America, Amelia van den Broek trades her life cooped up in her brother’s attic in frigid Maine with the bustle of society with cousins in Baltimore. The book starts with insinuating that Amelia has ruined herself socially. What happened in Maine is never discussed, which instantly made me interested to see what would happen in the rest of the book. Following social structures of the upper middle class of the time, Amelia’s only hope is to secure a good match in Baltimore society. Comparing this practice to what we experience today drives home how much society has and has not changed since the Victorian period. Girls today have more freedom to choose whom they marry, but there are still social and family structures in place to urge what they consider to be a good match based on wealth and status.
The two main characters that we see are our narrator, Amelia, and her cousin Zora Stewart. The two have never met before Amelia moves in with the Stewarts for the season, but they become fast friends, and behave like sisters. We learn a lot about each girl through their interactions with each other. Amelia is strong willed, but knows the proper rules of society. Sometimes she breaks the rules intentionally, which normally gets her in trouble. For example, when she starts school with Zora in the one room school, Amelia is assigned the last desk farthest from the stove until she can challenge someone for their desk the next week. Instead of waiting until Monday, Amelia speaks up and challenges Thomas, Zora’s crush who arrived late to class. Instead of allowing it, the teacher sends Amelia, Thomas, and Zora home. Her rule breaking only increases after meeting the handsome artist, Nathaniel Witherspoon.
Nathaniel and Amelia instantly have chemistry that is literally warm to the touch. He is a poor artist, but respected enough to be invited to dinners with families like the Stewarts to ensure an even number of guests. He is not the same class as Amelia, thus not a suitable match for her, but she doesn’t care. I’m siding with Amelia on this one. Amelia doesn’t really care about being part of the upper class, so she would rather marry for love. At first Amelia tries to deny that she loves Nathaniel, but in the end, it becomes clear that she would rather be with him than anyone else.
Nathaniel is handsome, talented, and can fly. Amelia is new to her paranormal talent of seeing prophetic visions of the future, but Nathaniel can ride the winds and appear wherever he wants. Both of their gifts are strong, and compliment each other. She is the fire and he is the wind. While Amelia’s talent is well known around Baltimore after a few social calls, only Amelia knows Nathaniel’s secret. Amelia’s ability to see at sunset snippets of what will happen to people, whether it be menial or important, makes her a target when one of her prophesies comes true, and people she trusted turn on her.
Zora is sweet, but also mischievous, which makes her a perfect companion for Amelia. Often Amelia follows Zora’s lead when doing something that they know they should not, like attending a spiritualist show unchaperoned, save for Thomas, after getting sent home from school. Zora cares fiercely about her friends and family, and will do everything she can to make sure they are taken care of. She grew up in Baltimore society, but is not condescending towards Amelia when she doesn’t know the social protocol. Zora is still so young even though she and Amelia are the same age since she hasn’t experienced any sort of tragedy in her life until the very end of the book. It is in Saundra Mitchell’s next book, The Springsweet, that we learn even more about Zora Stewart.
Overall, I enjoyed this book for the blending of paranormal into the normal society of Victorian Baltimore. I would recommend The Vespertine for anyone who is interested in period romances with a splash of hidden abilities.
Outside our room, footsteps crossed the stairs. We must have roused Mrs. Stewart with our laughter. We held our tongues until the night watch had passed.
Once it had, I murmured, “I was looking out the window, right when the vespers bells tolled. My thoughts drifted, and I saw you. In a new dress.”
This was hardly the relevant bit of the vision, but it suddenly occurred to me that perhaps I should test Zora’s patience for supernatural whimsies before admitting mine. I wasn’t sure about it.
It was a singular event. I’d never been struck by premonition in Maine, never had the slightest sensation of it. Spiritualists and seances and reincarnations were fashionable. Considering my anxiety, I might have simply retreated into a hundred stories I’d read before in magazines.
So this vision, of Zora in lilies — I decided to let her think I wasn’t too serious about it. What if it turned out to be nothing but a gilt-edged fantasy? How stupid I would feel.
“Was it a very good dress?” she asked. “I picked one from the Harper’s book, but Mama said it would have to wait. It called for twelve yards of Irish lace. Twelve! But it was glorious!”
With a light smile, I said “I hope it has lilies embroidered on the sleeves. That’s the dress I saw you in, dancing with Thomas.”
“It does! The entire polonaise is lace, embroidered with lilies!”
The bed groaned again when Zora pulled me to sit with her. She clutched my fingers, imploring me with wide eye. “Did you see it, really? All of it?”
I abandoned my studied lightness at once. “All of it,” I swore.
The Vespertine Series:
2. The Springsweet
FTC Advisory: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt provided me with a copy of The Vespertine. No goody bags, sponsorships, “material connections,” or bribes were exchanged for my review.
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