Thursday, March 10, 2011

Review: The Vespertine

THE VESPERTINE (The Vespertine #1)
Saundra Mitchell
Paranormal Young Adult
304 Pages
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Available March 7th
Received for review via NetGalley

Amelia is finally getting to leave her small town in Maine and spend time in Baltimore circa 1889, where she and her cousin Zora are to spend the summer finding themselves worthy husbands. Before their search can begin in earnest however, Amelia begins to have strange visions that come only at sunset, hazy premonitions of future events she quickly realizes always come to fruition.

When word of Amelia's ability gets out, she and Zora are asked to visit household after household to share her gift with an awed public. While reveling in her newfound popularity, Amelia also finds herself distracted from her husband hunting by Nathaniel, an impoverished artist considered not suitable for marriage by mainstream society. Despite his poor standing, Amelia is instantly and powerfully drawn to him, risking her reputation to meet with him whenever possible.

While busy exploring a relationship with Nathaniel, Amelia's visions begin to intensify, progressing from simple and mundane predictions to those showing violence and death, and when one of her and Zora's closest friends is gravely injured just as Amelia foretold, her joyous summer in Baltimore comes to a screeching halt, replaced instead with bedlam and dark accusations.

A beautifully haunting tale, The Vespertine transports us to a world that seems so strange and unfamiliar but yet is one we know existed, where stringent social etiquette entirely dictates the behavior of young ladies and the threat of ruination weighs heavily on every family with a daughter of courting age. Ms. Mitchell paints a vivid picture, her stunning prose like effortless brush strokes across a blank canvas, mesmerizing us as a cascade of emotions spills from the pages and coats us in the breathtaking quality of her written words. This story both fascinates and excites, highlighting customs and social procedures that make us marvel at how different life was in Amelia's time, reading wide-eyed and sometimes slack-jawed as she navigates a world where appearances and reputation must be upheld at all costs in order to find a suitable husband. A smile always decorates our faces, however, as she attempts to adhere to what is good and proper, but also quietly rebels–daring to defy propriety and seek out a life of her choosing.

Both Amelia and Zora are young ladies with whom we instantly connect, their playful teasing and private flouting of the societal rules constricting their every movement–ones rendering them nothing but decorative property to be handed from a father or brother's care to a husband's–keeping us highly entertained and more than a touch amused at their hushed antics. Their relationship is one of true friendship, not burdened with petty jealousies but rather defined by a mutual understanding and desire to find affection. Zora doesn't mock Amelia for her unusual gift, and though she basks in the popularity thrust upon them when Amelia's ability is made public, she doesn't seek to exploit the visions for her own gain, instead shying away from knowledge of her own future entirely and treating Amelia with same easy caring as she did before the paranormal entered their lives. Both girls approach their circumstances with an infectious humor and charm, warming our hearts even as the seriousness of Amelia's predictions escalates in scale and begins to cloud their clear-cut paths to society-approved bliss with danger and darkness.

Nathaniel is an interesting compliment to Amelia's character, possessing a hypnotic mysterious quality significantly enhanced by the story's shift between past and present events. Because the story begins after climactic developments have taken place then flashes back several months to recount them from the beginning, the nature of Amelia's predicament at the onset of this tale forces us to keep our guard up in Nathaniel's presence, constantly wondering what actions he will take to bring us full circle. We also question whether the information we've been provided is misleading since it's presented out of context initially, resulting in an unshakable sense of unease as a clear understanding of his feelings and motivations hovers intangibly between past history and current reality. Though some may be be bothered by the lack of a strict linear progression, the way it's presented adds complexity, forcing us to question what we think we know about both Nathaniel and Amelia, their individual paranormal abilities, and their emotional connection as we struggle to piece together the events spanning just a few short months with the extraordinary repercussions reaped in so short a time.

One drawback to The Vespertine is a lack of explanation for the emergence of Amelia's gift and the existence of Nathaniel's, and while it's easy to get swept away in the story and forget we don't have that information, curiosity does get the better of us eventually and we are left with no answers to quench our thirst for knowledge. Even a shallow illumination regarding the sudden appearance of Amelia's visions would have been appreciated so we might have a better understanding of Amelia herself and how she seems so well equipped to handle something so foreign and unexplainable. Though such questions do rattle around in our heads from time to time, the flowing quality of the writing smooths the small wrinkles caused by the paranormal element, surrounding us in the lyrical loveliness of Ms. Mitchell's words and the dynamic characters who come to life before our eyes.

Rating: 4/5


  1. Fabulous review. I loved Mitchell's prose - how the language perfectly set the scene for late Victorian Baltimore. I like how it showed the social mores (do you know how to type an accented e?) of the time. I also loved Zora. I hadn't thought about how she really let Amelia shine while still enjoying the spotlight, but you're right on with that. It would be so easy to become jealous.

  2. Oh this sounds like my kind of book. I love the sound of the characters especially. Brilliant review Jenny :)

  3. I absolutely agree... the language was beautiful and for the most part I loved the characters and the setting. The lack of explanation for the gifts (and the absolutely acceptance of them) did bother me, as well. But yah, definitely a good book!

  4. Fantastic review! I have been hearing good things about The Vespertine. I must read it soon!

  5. I also thought the gifts came a bit too easy and Amelia figured out how to use it too soon in my opinion. But as you said, the writing is beautiful! Great review!

  6. Hey Jenny, great review! I like this book as well. I love historicals and the way it was written is perfect.

  7. ****does happy dance**** I am SO excited to read this one, especially after seeing it has your stamp of approval!! I keep thinking/fearing it might be overhyped, but no, doesn't look like it!! Thanks, Jenny!

  8. I adore this book. I completely agree with the lack of explanation but I was so swept away in the end it really didn't bother me that much. I wish I knew more and I can hope that these two are revisited in another book (by book #2's synopsis I'm not so sure that will happen) but the whole story really was great. Fab review!

  9. I never even thought about wondering where all this mystical stuff come from until you mentioned. I did feel like at the beginning or even the first half of the book, you almost forget The Vespertine is paranormal. Great review! :)

  10. Oh I love this cover and the blurb sounds good !! I look forward to read this one =)
    Thanks for the review !

  11. Ive only read great reviews about this one. I think Im going to read it and see why this book is being called beautiful and haunting across the board. I love the cover as well.

    Lovely review Jenny..glad it kept your jaw

  12. I'm definitely going to be reading The Vespertine next. It sounds so good. I'm not a fan of being left in the dark about Amelia's visions, but I guess that's what sequels are for. I absolutely love that cover so I might just have to buy myself a finished copy. Thanks for the great review. :D

  13. Wow! This buzz for this book has been going strong all week. Since I've been reading so many reviews for it, I feel like I don't have to read the book. LOL

    J/K. I still want to check it out. I'm a sucker for stunning prose. Though there seems to be consistency in the thinking that Amelia and Nathaniel's gifts aren't explained very well.

    Beautiful review as always Jenny. Thanks.

  14. Alison - I agree, the writing was stunning:) And I wish I knew how to do an accented e, but I don't, I'm sure there's a key command out there though.

    Nic - I think you'll like this one, I couldn't put it down:)

    Ashley - Yeah, I wish there was some explanation for why both she and Nathaniel had these gifts, but I loved it overall:)

    Misha - Thanks!

    Daisy - I agree, but I was able to ignore it for the most part though not completely:)

    Savy - I was super impressed with this one:)

    Linds - Can't wait to read your no-doubt stunning review of it:)

    Stacey - I wish book 2 was going back to these 2 as well, I really enjoyed both of them. I'm sure this next story will be equally beautiful though:)

    Jacinda - Exactly, it was very easy to just get lost in the story and completely forget there was anything supernatural at play!

    Elodie - You're welcome, hope you get a chance to read it soon:)

    Tina - I loved it, I usually don't notice the writing all that much, I just get involved in the story (which is a sign of good writing I think) but I couldn't help but notice how pretty her words were.

    Adriana - Yay you're back! Hope you pick this one up:)

    Missie - Yeah their gifts aren't explained, but if you go in knowing that, I don't think it will be bothersome:)

  15. Wonderful review! I think if the paranormal bits were fleshed out just a little more I would have really loved this book. Saundra Mitchell really knows how to write in that time period.

  16. Great review! I haven't read this yet so didnt know that the story would shife from past to present and Amelia's ability sounds very interesting.

  17. This book looks really good, and I'm definately going to be keeping an eye out for it. It's gone on my wishlist as well!
    Brilliant review!

    Thanks for commenting! Yup, there's a whole series of books. I've only read the one, but I'm keeping an eye out for the rest! And isn't the show amazing? (:

  18. I keep seeing so many great reviews, I am itching to get to it!
    Brandi from Blkosiner’s Book Blog

  19. So, I've been pretty ambivalent about THE VESPERTINE, but I liked your review and I might pick this one up from the library this summer.

  20. I'm so behind in my Netgalley books! I have this in the queue to read soon and now I can't wait after reading your review. I didn't know it was going to be a series. Perhaps, his powers will be explained in the next book?

  21. Like Rummanah, I am also crazy behind on my NetGalley books! But this is the second great review of The Vespertine that I've come across today, so I might have to bump it up to the top of my review list. Glad you enjoyed it!

  22. I do get drawn in at once when I wonder why she is running, and from what. Sounds interesting

  23. Small - I agree, I would have liked a little more of that as well, but I was a big fan of this one:)

    Jenny - I know the time shift bothered some people since we start the book at the end, but I kind of liked it, it added a little more mystery for me because I was trying to figure out all the ways the story could go to get to an end I already knew about:)

    BookAddicted - Hope you give it a chance!

    Brandi - I can't wait for the next one, I just loved her writing:)

    Jennifer - You definitely should!

    Natalie - I am too, I just need the Kindle button to come back so I can get caught up on some of them!

    Blodeuedd - It's a very interesting book:)

  24. Yay! I'm so glad you enjoyed reading this book. Amelia and Zora sound like characters that I will like! I cannot wait to read this one and yay I got this one too from NG.

  25. Okay... okay... I need to read this one! :) Looks like even if it isn't fully explained it still is very good. I can handle that. *sigh* Another book I need on the tbr. I'm gonna be buried... Here lies Mel... ;)

  26. Your reviews are positively poetic! I'm glad to hear this one is a winner, since I'm currently on a historical fic craze. Thanks for the review, Jenny. :)

  27. I'm so glad historicals are becoming popular. I can't wait to read this one. I've read other bloggers like it, as well. But I have read the paranormal aspect is a little hard to understand. However, I like when writers make us question. Fab review :)

  28. I think my biggest pet peeve with YA these days is the assumption (generally speaking) that the author can simply brush over the details behind the story (ie the gifts) and still captivate the reader. That said, if the author can manage to do so, I'm sold, and it sounds like she did. Fab review, Jenny! :)

  29. Your reviews are always so mesmerizing and whimsical. You have a way with words, Jenny! I like historical romance but have yet to read a historical YA. This one sounds worthy. :)

  30. Nina - Hope you get to it soon, NetGalley is blowing me away with the choices they've got on there now!

    Melissa - I didn't even realize there was no explanation until I got to the end and was like "wait a second, how'd she come into this ability?" I was just caught up in the story and didn't really care about the whys or hows of it:)

    Kat - Thank you very much. If you're in a historical fiction phase, I think this would be a great one to read:)

    Julie - I don't read too many historicals but every time I try one I enjoy it so I need to read more of them:)

    Melissa - I honestly didn't notice it all that much. I was invested in the characters so much it didn't much bother me that it I didn't understand everything. I do wish there was a little explanation or even an acknowledgment that what was happening was unusual, but it wasn't irritating enough to be a huge detriment to the story.

    Ash - Thank you my dear:) This one definitely is worthy, hope you pick it up:)

  31. I've seen some mixed reviews for this one but if you liked it, I think I'll take a peak at it since I'm kind of picky about the historical fiction books I read. I tend to go for the ones that are a bit more factual than simply light historical reads and I'm assuming this one falls in the latter category. However, I do love it when books have good writing and great friendships.

  32. You did it again. You made me want to read a book that I was on the fence about. Thanks so much!

  33. Wonderful! I've decided I really must read this now. I'm not really one for historical fiction but add in some paranormal elements and I'm ready to go! It's a shame about the lack of answers about the gifts but assuming I can get over that, I know I'll enjoy this one!

    Also, I've just noticed you have a button?! I don't know how long you've had one so sorry if it has been awhile and I'm only just noticing. Definitely adding it to my blog now!

  34. I'm glad you enjoyed it, I really liked this book too. It reminded me a lot of Libba Bray's Gemma Doyle trilogy - mostly historical fiction, with just a hint of forbidden romance, and just a hint of paranormal.

  35. Excellent review! I do look forward to this one :)

  36. What a beautiful review! I definitely want to read this one. I've been waiting for your review on this one.


  37. Great review as usual Jenny! Doesn't look like my kind of book =/

  38. Excellent review Jenny! The book was so beautifully written and I loved Amelia and Zora. I do wish we knew a little more about how Amelia's gift came about but it sort of leaves a little mystery that I thought about for a while after finishing the book.