I was lucky enough to find Saundra Mitchell’s The Vespertine in my local Barnes & Noble several days before its release. Usually, this excites me because it means I can review things the day they come out, which I swear I’d planned to do in this case. But this whole being a lawyer thing is a much more significant time suck (see: not having posted a review in months and months) than I would like and so here I am, almost a whole week late, to tell you how much I really liked this book. Also, how much I liked this cover. It would not be one of my reviews if I didn’t at least comment on how prettily enticing this cover is.
In The Vespertine, Amelia van den Broek has come to Baltimore to stay with her cousin and find herself a man. At least, that’s why her brother has sent her there. But Baltimore has much more exciting and frightening plans for Amelia. Soon, she’s the most in demand young lady in town, and with good reason. Amelia can see the future. Sometimes, anyway, and often only in confusing pieces. What starts out as a game – have fun exchanging cards and giving people glimpses of their lives to come – winds up having terrifying consequences for Amelia and the people she cares about.
As is normal for me, I bought this book because it had a pretty cover and I’m a sucker for historical novels. This cover does not lie. The Vespertine is haunting and pretty and, well, historical. I’ll admit to some skepticism at the onset. I’m not the world’s biggest fan of prologues because they can so often ruin the book. That was definitely not the case here. The prologue set a level of suspense that this book would never have had without it. It made this game of soothsayer Amelia and her cousin were playing dangerous right from the get-go, even if they didn’t realize it and even if the reader has no idea what that danger will lead to. That suspense from the prologue made this book something else entirely. When I first started reading, it reminded me of Louisa May Alcott’s An Ordinary Girl. In a good way. “Country mouse” comes to the city is an old story, but Saundra Mitchell’s take on it was fresh and exciting and kept me turning the pages as quickly as possible.
The characters were excellent as well. It was nice to see these semi-well-to-do young ladies acting a little scandalous, but not ridiculously so. It was also nice to see that they were smart and had interests of their own. And, mostly, it was nice to see them pick their gentleman suitors because of something other than “OMG FATE!” We saw reluctance to accept the first man’s hand, we saw an acknowledgment that a young man was not quite suitable ignored, and we saw a man picked for his strength of character. I loved that. These characters were timelessly relatable, and I was very fond of all of them. That fondness just added to the suspense and gnawing sense of dread, because clearly something was going to go wrong and there wasn’t a single character I would have been ok with losing.
If I had one tiny criticism about this book, it’s that the period language was too good. At the start of the book, it was a little dense to the point that I wondered on my twitter whether the book might not have been suited for an older audience a little better. But, once the action got going in chapter one, this problem (and I use the word problem loosely, because it didn’t bug me at all, though it might have been an issue for someone much younger than me) evaporated in the wake of the suspense I’ve been so obsessed with this review.
Overall, this book surprised me. It had great characters, a suspenseful plot, and romances I could cheer on. These three things rarely happen at all in historical dramas any more, much less all three at once. And the ending…I won’t spoil it but you must read this book so you can know what I mean. I believe there’s going to be a sequel, and my anticipation for it…well, let’s just say I just bounced a little in my chair thinking about it.