The Vespertine by Saundra Mitchell
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.
Here’s the scoop:
This is a story about the ruination of one Miss Amelia Van den Broek during the summer of 1889 (be honest. You totally want to read it now, right? Girl goes and gets herself ruined! The scandal! The horror!). Her brother and sister-in-law, who have been in charge of her care since the death of their parents, have sent Amelia to live with her cousin in Baltimore to enjoy one season in the search for a suitable husband, but instead, a whole lot of crazy shizz happens.
Like, for example, Amelia realizes that she can see the future. She doesn’t have a great deal of control over it, but sometimes visions come to her while she’s in a dream-like state. At first, it’s all very mysterious and puzzling to her. Then, she and her cousin, Zora, begin to enjoy the attention her odd gift brings. It’s quite fun until Amelia sees troubling things and has to decide what to share and what to keep to herself.
Since this is her “season”, Amelia is socializing at dinner parties and social gatherings around town. Of course, of all the lovely eligible gentlemen around, Amelia is attracted to Nathaniel, the one man who is completely unsuitable. He’s a poor artist, barely capable of supporting himself—let alone anyone else—and he’s quite mysterious. He seems to have an odd gift or two as well, and this draws he and Amelia together with such force that it’s pointless for either to deny it.
Amelia forsees some dark things in the futures of her beloved friends and family. As things begin to come to pass, some begin to wonder if her knowledge could have prevented such tragedies. Even Amelia herself begins to question whether or not her sight is a gift or a curse. It’s brought her love because it has bonded her to Nathaniel, but she is haunted by the images she sees and by her lack of power to change them.
I had mixed feelings about this book. On one hand, I thought Amelia was fantastic, especially for the time period in which she lives. She’s fiercely independent and is a bit of a rebel and she follows her desire to pursue her attraction to Nathaniel. The historical setting is perfectly described and Mitchell does a beautiful job at portraying the rules of society, describing the backdrop with lush detail and giving her readers the perfect level of swoon in every forbidden encounter between the lovers. Nathaniel maintains an air of mystery, but he is a well-written balance of romantic gentleman and the boy you shouldn’t fall for.
On the other hand, this was a bit of a difficult read for me. It had a very slow start. Once Amelia’s visions began coming true, it picks up, but up until then I wasn’t drawn in. And also, perhaps it’s just me, but I got a little lost in the way it was written. While the words were beautifully descriptive and often set the scene nicely, I got confused by the way the events were set up and more than once had to go back and re-read a section or two.
Crush Intensity: 3/5 I’d love to know more of what happens to its characters, but I didn’t love it.
Instead, still flush with my victory, I whispered back, “I’ve seen the future.”
He didn’t laugh. He didn’t mock, not like he’s done at Privalovna’s performance. In the middle of our waltz he stopped, nose to nose with me. He uncovered me with a look that somehow bared him, too.
And his question told me everything—that he that he stopped time because he needed me, that he read my mind because we were one. That I troubled his nights, indeed, because what he asked revealed all.
“Am I with you there?”
Thank you to Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and Net Galley for providing us with an e-read review copy!