Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Childrens
Publication Date: March 7, 2011
Genre: Young Adult Paranormal
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.
This was another case of the cover being the first thing that lured me into looking at a book - I may have a thing for YAs with heroines in billowing dresses and long flowing hair. It didn’t hurt that upon actually paying attention to the words on the screen I saw that it was written by Mitchell, who wrote the fabulous Shadowed Summer. Like that story, the beauty of The Vespertine really lies in Mitchell’s lyrical prose - this book is a little depressing in most spots, frankly, but the way it’s told is just lovely.
It’s early 1889, and Amelia’s been sent by her brother to stay with her cousin’s family in Baltimore to see if she can be introduced to some proper men in hopes of finding a husband. She quickly becomes best friends with her cousin Zora and is sort of welcomed into her circle of friends and family – sort of. As the “country cousin” from Maine she’s a little ungainly, awkward and doesn’t necessarily fit in with the more urbane group. During one of their parties, she met a mysterious young artist named Nathaniel – called a Fourteenth, he’s someone that’s occasionally hired to even the number of guests at a party. Amelia’s drawn to the very unsuitable man – there’s no way her brother would allow him to meet her formally, much less court her, but Nathaniel kept showing up every time she thinks of him.
Amelia’s first vision was of Zora dancing with Thomas, the physician’s son she’s smitten with. When it happened exactly as Amelia saw, Zora started telling people, and soon the household was deluged with calling cards from people who wanted their fortunes told. When Amelia’s more ominous predictions started to come true – everyone that claimed to be her friend started to turn on her and treat her like a freak, except Nathaniel, who had more in common with her than she ever could have guessed.
The story is told in flashbacks, from Amelia’s present day autumn of 1889, back home in Maine, to her stay in Baltimore earlier that year. I have to admit, for the first full page I had no idea at all what I was reading. She’s rambling on like the mad woman her brother has her locked in the attic as. It’s also an adjustment to get used to Mitchell’s style of writing – it’s a little flowery, a little Victorian and a little overblown. Two chapters in, I was enchanted.
Amelia was really a typical girl for a good part of the story - she was on an adventure in Baltimore, learning to fit in with a new group of friends, meeting a new and sort of dangerous young man who would definitely be off-limits if she were at home. Her relationship with Nathaniel is a little dreamlike – his presence is almost always on the edge of her story with everyone else, almost as if it exists a little outside of it and when he reveals a secret about himself, how he and Amelia are somewhat alike, it explains why. There isn’t a lot of page time given to developing his character - there’s a moment when Amelia pops up unannounced on his doorstep and he looks a little shocked, I wondered if there was going to be a hidden wife in there – but when he is there with Amelia, he’s definitely dark and ardently romantic. No hidden wife, either.
As the number of people wanting readings from Amelia increased and her control over her visions started slipping and they started getting more deadly, I started to wonder how badly I wanted to finish. In the flashbacks, Amelia had given some indication of what she thought had happened, but she was a little hysterical about things and I had no idea if she was being literal or not. Reading it through is worth it though – getting through the terrible events that lead there is draining, but the ending is a shocker.
My Summary: Mitchell has taken what would have been an average story and elevated it with her elegant writing and the fascinating relationships between Amelia and Zora and Amelia and Nathaniel. My only gripes are that I wish Nathaniel had been less of a mystery and that the story hadn’t been so short – or at least that the ending hadn’t been as abrupt as it was, since I don’t think there’s going to be more to Amelia’s story. I’m looking forward to the next book in the series though - Springsweet will be released in early 2012 and will be set in the Victorian-era wild-west.
My Rating: B+