Book Review: The Vespertine by Saundra Mitchell

Period drama meets mystical intrigue in The Vespertine by Saundra Mitchell, a novel that will in turns have you sighing in delight over the romance and then biting your nails in anticipation of the next big twist.

The Vespertine tells the story of 17-year-old Amelia van den Broek, as she spends the summer with her cousin Zora in Baltimore. Here, her brother has tasked her with finding a suitable man to marry. But in the midst of pretty gowns, lavish parties and girlish romps in the park, Amelia discovers a disturbing talent for seeing the future when she looks into the sunset. When her unsettling visions begin coming true, Amelia and her cousin Zora soon find themselves two of the most called-upon ladies in the city. Alas, it’s not all good fortune, however. Because Amelia’s visions aren’t just fun and frivolities — and some begin to question whether Amelia’s simply seeing the future, or bringing it to fruition. None of this is helped by Amelia’s building (and forbidden) attraction to Nathaniel, an artist with some supernatural secrets of his own.

Written with a true flair, The Vespertine feels very much like a period piece, until the little bits of the supernatural come creeping into the storyline. Mitchell does an excellent job of balancing the elements, so that the story remains grounded in reality while still offering more than just a story about courtship in Victorian Baltimore. The combination creates a compelling mix, one in which it’s hard to tell sometimes what’s more magical — Amelia’s strange sight, or the world of forbidden romance and stolen kisses.

There’s also something magical about Mitchell’s writing alone. While reading The Vespertine, you feel transported: taken back in time and whisked away to the bustling city of Baltimore. Mitchell paints a lively picture of this iconic, Victorian-era American city and the people inhabiting it. It’s a world I’m happy to spend time in, and one I look forward to returning to with the upcoming companion novel, The Springsweet.

The entire novel, in fact, feels balanced on a fine thread of anticipation: for Nathaniel’s next appearance; for the next social event; for the next vision of the future; for a dreaded and murky vision of tragedy. All of these elements will keep you a little bit on edge and eager to keep turning the page. It all builds up to a dramatic climax that will have you equally nervous and anxious to turn the page. Everything, however, culminates beautifully in the last few pages, with an ending sure to leave you utterly satisfied.

The Vespertine is in stores on March 7th. And tune in March 26th for our stop on the official blog tour!

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