Last year, I bought Saundra Mitchell’s The Vespertine because I thought it had a pretty cover and I’m shallow like that. Of course, as I said in my review at the time, I ended up really liking it, in large part because of the characters. When I found out we’d get sequels/companion novels with more of these characters, I was pretty excited and so when I got an ARC of The Springsweet, I was even more stoked. As I’ve said a million times on tis blog, I’m a sucker for historical fiction, and anything to do with homesteading/ranching/wilderness is right at the top of my list, second only to Victoriana. And here? I pretty much get both! I’m going to try to talk about The Springsweet without spoilers, but some from the Vespertine will inevitably sneak in here so be warned!
Heartbroken over the tragic death of her fiancé, seventeen-year-old Zora Stewart leaves Baltimore for the frontier town of West Glory, Oklahoma, to help her young widowed aunt keep her homestead going. There she discovers that she possesses the astonishing ability to sense water under the parched earth. When her aunt hires her out as a “springsweet” to advise other settlers where to dig their wells, Zora feels the burden of holding the key to something so essential to survival in this unforgiving land. Even more, she finds herself longing for love the way the prairie thirsts for water. Maybe, in the wildness of the territories, Zora can finally move beyond simply surviving and start living.
I was nervous when I realized this book was about Zora. Zora kind of broke my heart in the last book, and I was afraid it was maybe too soon for me to be ready to see her again – that she wasn’t ready to face life yet. But I was wrong. I think one of the things that made me like The Springsweet so much was Zora’s strength. From the get go, she knows what she doesn’t want. She knows what she will refuse to allow to happen to her, and she takes her fate into her own hands. She may not always make smart decisions or even well thought out ones, but she also refuses to be a passive participant in her own life. Watching her grow from the spoiled socialite she was in the first book to the woman she is at the end of The Springsweet was a satisfying progression. She learned from her mistakes and she carried her knowledge forward so that each and every thing that happened to her was an experience she drew from.
Zora’s growth is incredibly important in this book because it is, in a lot of ways, the whole plot. At its essence, The Springsweet is about a city-girl who needs a new life and finds it on the frontier. And she finds it with a gift she never knew she had. I actually love d the “springsweet” aspect of this story because it was supernatural in a way that didn’t feel hokey (not that Amelia’s powers felt at all hokey in The Vespertine). It fit with both the setting and with Zora. More importantly, it was written in a way that made a strong visual impression, for both the reader and Zora.
I also really liked Emerson. I especially liked that we got to see all of his best qualities in a roundabout way. Zora finds out so much about him from local gossip, which gave the small town setting a lot of charm. It was also interesting because most of the people talking to Zora are trying to convince her he’s no good, so we get to see not only Emerson’s awesome but also the problems that come with the time period. Emerson, though, was great because he was such a compliment to Zora (and you’ll see what I mean when you read the book). He was steady and patient, but also funny and charming. You could see why Zora was drawn to him and appreciate that he let it come to her so slowly.
If I had a real complaint about this book it would have to be that The Springsweet is too short. The Springsweet is only forty pages shorter than The Vespertine, but I kind of missed those forty pages. The book was well paced, but I don’t think more detail would have changed that. There were details I’d have liked to see more of, especially as it concerned background characters like Theo and Aunt Birdie. I think there were a few plots with these characters that, though fun, could have been something more (both less predictable and less surprising, if such a thing is possible) with a little more backstory. Even the town itself that I think could have benefitted from a little more page space, because scenes like the barn raising were charming and cute, but I wanted more from them. I think, in the end, The Springsweet was a story about Zora and Emerson and I had everything I needed for that story, but I also felt like Saundra Mitchell wanted to tell me more and it just didn’t make it to the page.
The Springsweet comes out on April 17, and I’m reviewing it now so that if you haven’t read The Vespertine yet you can get on it and catch up before release day. The Springsweet is one of those period pieces that leaves you happy when you’re done reading it, and I can’t wait for more from Zora and Amelia and their friends.