Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Book Review: The Vespertine, by Saundra Mitchell

The Vespertine, by Saundra Mitchell
Release Date: March 7, 2011
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Pages: 293
Received: Net Galley
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars 

Author's Page
Amazon Page 

Goodreads Page


In the summer of 1899, country girl Amelia is sent to stay with relatives in Baltimore for the social season in order to find a suitable husband. The season begins joyfully with friendships and a number of attractive young men, but Amelia’s fun is interrupted by startling visions that appear to her in the light of the setting sun. Amelia and her cousin Zora begin accepting callers for private readings. As the town clamors for Amelia to read their futures, Amelia finds her heart pulled toward the decidedly unsuitable Nathaniel, an artist below her station. Balancing the fine line between propriety and passion, tension grows as Amelia’s visions show her increasingly disturbing events.


The book opens in the fall of 1899, after the events of the story have already transpired. We learn that tragedy has struck and Amelia has been left a ruined madwoman. To say this is an ominous opening is an understatement. I was saturated with a feeling of dread throughout the entire story, knowing that whatever happened would ultimately lead to a tragic end.

I was completely captivated. My mind was racing with questions right from the start. What happened to Amelia? What drove her mad? What is the nature of the tragedy? The dark allusions to cursed visions pulled me in further. I couldn’t wait to find out the story surrounding these visions and how the paranormal aspect would be woven into the story.

On the other hand, however, this somber beginning tainted my enjoyment of the romance. We know from the start that Amelia is a ruined woman, and in 1899 that usually meant a woman trusted her heart to an untrustworthy man. Knowing how Amelia’s relationship ended up, I had a very hard time liking Nathaniel. I constantly viewed him with suspicion and resentment.

In some ways, though, Nathaniel was an attractive romantic lead. There were some sensual scenes that I couldn’t help but get caught up in. Mitchell has a real gift with words and it shines in these scenes. Their behavior is basically PG-13, but her writing made these scenes smolder. There were a number of sentences throughout the book (both in the sexy scenes and in others) that caught my attention to the point where I stopped to reread and admire them. I also must point out how impressed I was by Michell's ability to so convincingly write in an 1899 tone and style. This is a big change from her previous book (modern, American Southern) and really makes her stand out to me as a convincing and versatile author.

Still, despite these scenes, I never really warmed up to Nathaniel. He took far too many liberties, and while there is something dangerously attractive about a man flaunting social conventions for love, it turns distasteful when he has just as little regard for the reputation of his lady. I did not like that about him, and in turn I also thought less of Amelia for allowing this sort of ruination.

It also struck me as rather rude of Amelia to so blatantly flaunt her social breaches while she was a guest in her family’s home. I may sound stuffy, but her behavior was a reflection upon them, and she seemed to care very little about how her actions would affect their reputations. I had a hard time liking Amelia as a character and feeling much sympathy for her eventual circumstances.

Even with my dislike of the two main characters, I still enjoyed this book. The side characters, while not developed as much as I would have liked, were interesting and fun to read about. I was much more invested in their stories and romances. The mysterious impending tragedy kept suspense high and I practically flew through the chapters to find out what would happen next.

I was confused by the paranormal aspects of the story. Amelia’s abilities were explained well enough in action, but I was frustrated at the lack of reason behind her talents. I have no idea why she receives visions and why only at sunset (and only in the presence of the sun, I think?). Is this ability a common or accepted occurrence in Amelia’s world? I don’t know and I would have liked to have read an explanation. The other abilities completely puzzled me. What exactly were they? Were they connected to Amelia's abilities? I just didn’t understand them at all.

The climax of the story is astounding. I wasn’t expecting it at all. With the ominous lead up and hints at something absolutely terrible happening, I was wondering if the eventual reveal would live up to the hype. All I can say without spoiling the ending is that it most certainly did live up to the hype. I have to give Mitchell credit here, she delivered.

My lower rating is because of my personal dislike of Amelia and Nathaniel and my confusion over the paranormal aspects of the book. The story overall was enjoyable, so take my rating with a grain of salt and read this one for yourself. You might also be interested in checking out Logan E. Turner's review. She loved The Vespertine so much her review is even motivating me to do a reread!


  1. Thanks for letting me know that the lower rating is because you disliked Amelia and Nathaniel. I have The Vespertine on my wishlist so I'm glad that the climax lived up to its hype, and that the tone and style match the time period.

  2. wonderful review! i think i would probably have the same reaction to Nathaniel after a beginning like that, but it's also good to know that the climax is worth it. i've read a few books that were basically so-so until a killer ending which totally changed my thoughts on it. Also, i think it's really cool that the author manages to keep the tone as 'historical'-ish, i love it when authors do that! i'll definitely be looking out for this one!

  3. Fantastic, honest review! I love YA historical and the paranormal aspects sound interesting. It just goes to show though how much impact characters have on a story. I have a Net Galley account but unfortuantly I found out I can't stand readingon the computer and I don't have an e-reader so I'll have to wait till its release. The cover is beautiful :)

  4. A Canadian Girl, You're welcome :) I'm glad you found it helpful. I'm looking forward to hearing your thoughts when you read it.

    Audrey, Thank you! Oh yes, I thought the climax was very worth it. It's very abrupt and you're left shocked. Not abrupt in a bad way at all, but in a way that works with the book. My jaw dropped. And then it dropped again. Hope you enjoy it!

    Stephanie, Thank you! I love YA historical too, especially with paranormal elements. I'm a 100% character girl. I read this one on the computer, but, yeah, it's not the best way to read ebooks. I'll only read them that way if they're short. I'm dying to read Angelfire, but I keep looking at that 400+ page count and turning away.

  5. Really nice review, yours are always so thorough and well thought out, they're a pleasure to read! I'm really excited for this story though I have to say I'm sure it will be difficult for me to enjoy Nathaniel as much knowing how things end and then traveling back in time to the beginning. And now I can't wait for this astounding climactic element!

  6. I love YA historical fiction...this is on my to read list. Even if the characters aren't likeable, I'm a plot girl so I'm still looking forward to it. Thanks for the review!


  7. Fantastic review! I prefer stories with enjoyable characters so I'm a bit weary to read this now but since you still say its a good story I'll give it a try ^_^.

  8. That must have been some ending if you gave it 3.5 stars and didn't like the MCs! Can't wait to read it.

  9. I got this from NetGalley too and I was hoping it was going to be amazing. I will still read it but my expectations will be lower now (maybe that is for the best?) Great review, as always :)

  10. Jenny, Thank you so much! Without spoiling anything, just keep this in mind: whatever you think you know in the beginning you don’t have a clue! Haha, I hope I haven’t over-hyped the end for you!

    Demitria, Me too! If you’re a plot girl, then you should be good to go with this one.

    Sandy, Thank you! I prefer characters too. I’m 100% a character girl. But I still liked this one.

    Logan, I thought it was! I was all, “WHAT?!” and then “OHMYGOSH! WOAH!” It’s a double whammy. :)

    Alice, I was hoping it would be amazing too, especially after I saw the new cover with the brown dress. I don’t think it was amazing, but I do think it’s worth a read. If I had liked the characters more this one would have been amazing. You never know, maybe you will like Amelia and Nathaniel. :)

  11. Thanks for your wonderful and honest review! I also prefer characters over plot of the story. :')

  12. You are too good to me! Thanks for the link back!

  13. I really enjoyed the book but found some of the elements a bit strange, such as the paranormal like you mentioned. I think it's explained a little more in the sequel, but not really why. However it's been a year since I read it, so don't quote me... (I used to be ComaCalm's Corner, don't know if you remember me?)

    Under The Mountain


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