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The Vespertine


The Vespertine

...I had it all nearly figured out --- how to sit at the window, how to catch the light in my eyes just so. Where the gift came from remained a tantalizing mystery. I only knew that if I welcomed the sunset, the sunset would speak to me.

At sunset, the time of vespers, Amelia van den Broek can see --- that is, she has visions. She certainly doesn't understand its power, and perhaps it's nothing important. However, it's disturbing enough to her brother August that he sends her to her cousin's place for the summer, hoping that this will help her "situation." Everyone, especially Amelia, is needing a change.

With another crisp bite of apple, I tasted --- perhaps for the first time --- the true sweetness of possibility.

The chance to go to Baltimore over that summer of 1889 was irresistible to Amelia. Staying with Zora and living in a world of Victorian finery was much nicer than being with August and her sister-in-law, Lizzy. Things never seemed happy there, and change could only bring better times. Zora is exciting to be with and knows so much more about the world. She certainly knows about boys and is an expert at flirting. Between tea parties, balls, archery and lively visits with friends, Amelia is soon entranced and swept away by all the gaiety of new adventures.

While she tries hard to conform to this new life, her "gift" follows her and eventually becomes known among a circle of Zora's friends. At once, Amelia is the center of attention and the main attraction at every party. These little parlor games are the hit of the season, and since Amelia wants very much to belong --- to please everyone --- she tries hard to appease their demands. But as her visions come, she grows frightened. Things are not going as they should. She does not like what she sees and cannot share these "truths" without hurting them. How much control does she actually have? Do her visions cause these things to happen?

Making the summer so much more memorable is the growing relationship with the mysterious Nathaniel. Although he is just a poor artist and certainly not suited for a possible marriage with Amelia, she's drawn to him.

The warmth of his mouth bloomed across my hand, and his nails skimmed the inside of my wrist. Such great sensation for so little a touch...

Nathaniel is like no one she has ever met. It would seem that he appears and disappears at will. His mind and hers share an intensity she cannot explain. While she knows there's danger with him, there is no resisting the pull between them:

I looked in fire and saw the future; Nathaniel went on the winds. Should we both be monsters or not, it seemed we were infinitely suited.

She and Zora share stories and giggle together in the evenings over the relationships that are growing around them. Zora has fallen in love with Thomas, Sarah has Caleb, and now there's Amelia and Nathaniel. Like a flock of happy birds, they flutter from party to party, share their stories and bask in all the attentions. Tragedy seems so far away until a terrible accident (seen in a vision by Amelia) changes their lives and decidedly thrusts Amelia into an even more distant world, a world where her one ally is totally unexpected.

Author Saundra Mitchell's language seems perfectly reflective of this period, and her descriptions of clothes, manners, cities and people --- even the dinner parties --- are poetic. Capturing the rigid values and women's limited roles, she describes Amelia's dress:

My suit only fit if my corsets were strung as tight as possible, so I stood breathless in heavy, peacock satin. From shoulder to thigh, my bodice armored me --- a quilted shell in more of the same dour shade...

Describing Nathaniel: His charm fit him as easily as his coat. Vulcan red with black velvet accents, silver buttons, and a white carnation pinned to the lapel...

While the descriptions work beautifully in providing a sense of period, some might prefer a more contemporary tone to the writing. For this reader, though, it was sheer pleasure from beginning to end. The story has the twists, turns and time shifts to keep an audience totally fascinated. Many questions linger at the end. Exactly what or who is Nathaniel, and what becomes of Amelia? Perhaps there will be another book to follow. We can only hope.

The moon hung low. It glittered like a curved needle, left in a field of midnight velvet...

Reviewed by Sally M. Tibbetts on March 7, 2011

The Vespertine
by Saundra Mitchell

  • Publication Date: March 7, 2011
  • Genres: Paranormal, Romance
  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Harcourt Children's Books
  • ISBN-10: 0547482477
  • ISBN-13: 9780547482477