Book Review: The Vespertine by Saundra Mitchell

7497552Title: The Vespertine
Author: Saundra Mitchell
Genre: Historical Fiction, Romance
Publication Date: March 7th
Review copy provided by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Rating: 4,5 stars
Goodreads | The Vespertine Website

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.

The first thing that appealed to me about The Vespertine is, although I’m ashamed to admit it, the gorgeous cover. Sure I’m the first person to jump on the boat claiming that a bad cover doesn’t necessarily make a bad book, and I’m pretty sure the first editions of Shakespeare or Homer weren’t all that lovely either, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t often get persuaded by the cover of a novel. When it’s really, really pretty, it often charms me enough to read it, without even glimpsing at the summary or browsing the web searching for reviews of the novel. I’ve let myself get tricked with Lost Voices, I felt the same strange urge with The Vespertine, and I did it all over again with Starcrossed, Hereafter and Die For Me. For Lost Voices, the gorgeous cover art hid something that was partly dissapointing, and partly fun and enjoyable. For The Vespertine, the nice cover doesn’t try to make up for lack of story and potential, because this novel has plenty of both. At first I was sighing, thinking I had let myself get caught in the web of pretty and shiny things again, but it didn’t take me long to realise that The Vespertine is anything but an empty shell. It’s an extraordinary mix of historical fiction and paranormal romance, an interesting story focused on friendship, love, betrayal and superstition in Victorian America.

The story sets off in Baltimore in the 19th century, as we meet up with a young woman called Amelia. Banished from her country home to find a suitable fiancé in the big city, Amelia is forced to spend her summer holiday with one of her distant cousins, Zora; much to her own delight, because Zora and Amelia soon grow to be close friends. During the first couple of days of her stay, Zora introduces her cousin to the boy she has been in love with for a couple of years now – Thomas. Although at first something of a one-sided crush, the relationship between Zora and Thomas soon grows into something more. The first person who knows about this is Amelia herself, who saw the two of them dancing in a vision. Shortly after, Amelia is introduced to Nathaniel, a young artist who barely gets by and gets paid to be the Fourteenth at upper class dinners. Immediately smitten by the “starving artist” who is free to do whatever he wants whenever he wants, and who has a charm and wit about him that is both intoxicating and intimidating, Amelia finds herself falling in love with this mysterious stranger. As her visions grow darker by the day, and her supernatural gifts seem to expand with every week that passed, Amelia is forced to acknowledge the dark side of her gifts, especially when they threaten the lifes of the people she loves. And on top of that, Nathaniel seems to have some dark secrets of his own…

I have to admit that before I actually starting reading The Vespertine, I had no idea this novel was a mix of historical and paranormal fiction; I had guessed the historical part from the cover art, but failed to acknowledge the paranormal part because I was stupid enough not to look at the summary. Oh well, it was a nice surprise. I love paranormal romances and I love historical fiction, and when combined, they sure make a great mix. This is one of the first novels I read in that particular mix-match genre though, and I’m happily surprised. The Vespertine isn’t just any novel though. With a writing style fit for the era, haunting and mesmerising, spellbinding you to every sentence, Saundra Mitchell utterly and completely compelled me to keep reading. When the Victorian streets came to life, and I could vaguely hear the sounds of carriages and horses in the back of my mind, and I heard the soft whisper of those large Victorian dresses; I knew this book was a winner. The descpriptions that Saundra Mitchell uses are very detailed, imaginative and lyric. Her writing style reminded me a lot of Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights. Needless to say, I was hooked.

Amelia is an interesting character with an outstanding and enjoyable personality. A lot of times in these historical novels, I find myself thinking that the thought process of the main character – usually a woman – is too evolved or too rebellious for that time. Sure, a little rebellion is always great, but you have to keep in mind that women in the 17th century wouldn’t want the kind of progress and equality women are striving for today. But not Amelia. No, she really is a child of her era, and although perhaps a bit of a free spirit, just like her love interest Nathaniel, they aren’t exactly extremely progressive. Their love and relationship isn’t appropriate for society, but then again, they simply don’t care for society. They don’t go about and try to change the way society feels about upper and lower class couples, they just go and do their own thing. They made me think about the first time I was in love, about how carefree one is at those moments, and about how less one cares about other human beings, about the rules of how things should go, about the world itself. Amelia and Nathaniel, in their mutual love, innocence and childlike happiness, reminded me of first love, of true love, and it was an amazing feeling, I can assure you.

As I started off by saying, Amelia has a very interesting personality. She isn’t feisty or headstrong, like about 90 percent of the fictional heroines out there, but she isn’t weak and braindead either. She seemed to me like quite a balanced person, with a mix of all sorts of qualities, but with a good balance about them. I liked Zora’s personality as well, a bit brighter and cheerier than Amelia’s, but at the same time capable of worrying and brooding, although I had wished to see more behind the hidden veils that is Zora. I had the feeling we only got to meet her on the surface, and didn’t get to see all of the real her, with her own fears, anxieties and worries. On the other hand, this is understandable, as she only is a supporting character, but I thought her interesting enough to appear in the spotlight more often.

I liked both of the suitors for our two protagonists as well. Thomas is the calm, conservative, reserved gentleman, who is all too eager to play by society’s rules, and who carefully courts the woman he loves. Nathaniel is quite the opposite: endaring, charming, mischevious, carefree, rebellious. Although it would be clear for me who I’d choose from the start, and I completely understand why Amelia is totally enamoured by Nathaniel, I loved how nice Thomas and Zora fit together as well. The dynamics between all the characters, and especially these four, are very intriguing. Another thing about this novel which I really enjoyed, is that we get to meet Zora’s Mom only from the interactions between Zora and Amelia about the woman in question, and yet we manage to form quite an opinion about her. I thought this was an impressive sample of excellent writing skills, just when I thought Saundra Mitchell couldn’t possibly impress me even more.

The storyline itself was innovating, refreshing and very well thought-through. I liked the small plot twists that turned up here and there throughout hte novel, and how Amelia’s gift of seeing the future growed gradually darker. On the downside, I thought that it took quite a while before the action actually started (more than halfway through the novel) and The Vespertine would have scored higher on my ratings had the actual story progressing started a little earlier. In the prologue, we got a view of the Baltimore in 1889, and we see Amelia locked up in her own house. Then we take a trip back in time, and it was like all that tension and excitement that had been building in the prologue, got thrown out of the window page by page, because it took a good while for the suspense to return. However, when it returned, it did so in style. The last chapters of the book are truly brilliant, they’re showcases of excellent writing, plot development and character progression. Those last chapters made me fall in love with this book all over again.

You know that I’m a complete idiot when I tell you that I didn’t stop to think about the meaning of the title, The Vespertine, once throughout this novel, and didn’t even think about it once I finished it. It only occured to me just now, when I started writing this review, what exactly it means, and why it’s the title of this novel. Damn, I’m really quite the idiot. Anyway, don’t let my foolishness fool you (get it? I made a word joke). The Vespertine truly is one of the most impressive works of fiction I have read this entire year: with an interesting mix of historical fiction and paranormal romance, heartwarming characters, a most impressive writing style, and more suspense towards the ending than your average crime novel. Amelia and Nathaniel are my favorite fictional couple of the year, and that’s saying something. I think the best way to end this review would be: what the heck are you waiting for? Go buy your own copy of The Vespertine, and start reading!


  1. I bought this book the week it came out but I haven’t had the time to pick it up and read it, but I really want too! This book will be the next one I read b/c of your review! Thanks


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