Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Vespertine

In the summer of 1889, Amelia van den Broek is sent to Baltimore to live with her cousins and find a suitable match. Her brother also expects her to start anew and make acquaintances to elevate her social standing so she won't be his responsibility any longer. With the freedom and excitement of being in a new city, Amelia ignores her brother's orders and enjoys a bit of trouble and fun with her cousin Zora. Then she meets Nathaniel, an artist paid to go to parties to make the numbers even, and she falls in love. He's obviously not a proper match, being not even close to her in terms of social standing, but she is inexplicably drawn to him. In addition to this budding romance, Amelia discovers by accident that the setting sun, the time of the vespers, reveals visions to her of things to come. At first, Amelia is frightened, but once word spreads and she gains quite a following, it seems fun. That is until a gruesome visions comes true and suspicion is cast on her as perhaps the cause of the accident instead of just a seer.

I didn't really know what to expect when I started The Vespertine, but it was a quick enjoyable read that held my interest. The characters were all different and full of life, despite what everyone assumes about that era. Amelia had a real joie de vivre and isn't above doing some supposedly indecent things to enjoy her life. She and Zora put on a show to be proper ladies of society, but in private, they were just normal teenage girls with the same fears and anxieties of modern teenagers. Even though they wear different clothes and don't have as many opportunities as modern women do, I could see myself in them. I loved their relationship and how they interacted. They were more friends than just cousins. Amelia's relationship with Nathaniel was also realistic and palpable. Unlike some other YA novel heroes, I could see why she was drawn to him and, even though he was socially inferior, he wasn't a bad boy or a jerk. He treated Amelia with tenderness and made sure he was there for her when she needed him. I looked forward to his appearance throughout the book. Even Amelia and Zora's school friends, all pretty minor characters, had their own fully realized personalities that were conveyed in short passages.

My only complaint about the novel would be the pacing and how little paranormal events there were in comparison to everything else. Much of the book was just about Amelia and Zora's day to day lives: their friends, the parties they went to, the clothes they wore, the social expectations of the day, etc. While I still find this interesting, I felt that Amelia's visions and the other paranormal aspects figured in as fairly minor. When the accident happens, causing her friends and family to turn on her, there were not very many pages left and I felt it was a rushed ending. Based on the description, I figured the bulk of the conflict would be after that event, but this was not the case.

The Vespertine was a fluid and fun read that had relatable characters and featured excellent, descriptive writing from Saundra Mitchell. I hope there is another book in the works and I will be sorely disappointed if there isn't. I would recommend this to all lovers of young adult fantasy and historical fiction.

My rating: 4/5 fishmuffins

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