Vespertine by Saundra Mitchell
March 7, 2011; Harcourt Children's Books
-I received this book free via NetGalley
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. (courtesy of Goodreads)
Historical fiction with a paranormal twist.
There aren't enough books out there combining historical fiction and paranormal. You have Libba Bray's Great and Terrible Beauty series and Michelle Zink's Prophecy of the Sisters series, but not much else. The Vespertine is a good addition to this cross-genre of books.
Amelia travels down to Baltimore from her rural Maine town to stay with her wealthy cousins and meet "the right kind of people." I loved her cousin Zora. She is daring and outgoing, the type of girl who's always out for a good time. Amelia is more straight-laced, but definitely willing to go out on a limb when encouraged. Zora and Amelia egg each other on to get into trouble (although initially not veering out of the bounds of propriety).
Amelia discovers that she has visions. It's never accurately explained, but essentially she blacks out and comes up with prophecies about events that will happen to certain people. Some are fun and happy while others foretell doom. Amelia and Zora take full advantage of Amelia's little parlor trick. It opens the door to high society that they never could have entered otherwise. It's all fun and games until Amelia's darker prophecies start coming true. Then Amelia begins to understand the burden of her gift.
In the meantime, Amelia falls for Nathaniel, a "fourteenth," a poor artist hired to attend dinner parties so there won't be thirteen people at a table. They are instantly attracted to one another, and Amelia soon steps far outside the bounds of proper Victorian behavior to be with him. It also turns out that Nathaniel has a supernatural power of his own.
I enjoyed The Vespertine, but I had some issues with it. On the plus side, I really liked the writing. It's hard to do historical voices correctly. You don't want to be too modern, but you also don't want to be so old-fashioned that the book is unintelligible. Mitchell did a good job balancing these aspects. The old-style writing set the atmospherics of late-Victorian-era Baltimore without dragging the book down. I loved the idea of visions. It fits in perfectly with the love for the occult that was so popular during that time period.
On the down side, the book was very confusing as it started out. I also thought the paranormal element was never adequately explained. I prefer paranormal books where the reader is let in on the secret behind the fantasy world. In this case, we knew that Amelia had visions, but don't know why or how it fits into the greater universe. Nathaniel also has a supernatural power. His ability is completely different than Amelia's. I thought his ability was never explained, and I didn't see a reason for it other than a plot device.
Back to the bright side: I loved the ending.
The Vespertine is an enjoyable, if flawed, historical fiction/paranormal novel.
Rating: 3 / 5