"I woke in Oakhaven, entirely ruined."
I normally do not include first sentences, or passages from the novel other than to throw in one quote that stuck with me as I read. But when it comes to Saundra Mitchell's The Vespertine, I have a feeling I am going to be talking a lot about the lyrical, poetic feel to this heart-wrenching and gorgeous novel. From the captivating first sentence, to the breath-taking last sentence, until I closed the book, the words stayed with me. When I was not reading this book, I was thinking about it, and longing to read just a few pages, to get back to the mythos Saundra created. I have read a few reviews where readers had a difficult time getting in to this book, perhaps because of the setting, but I thought that was well-researched and well-fleshed out, and again, the language and the prose was just beautiful.
Amelia Van den Broek comes to Baltimore with a mission: to make a proper match. I liked her immensely, and right away, though, because Amelia, our headstrong protagonist, immediately falls for a Fourteenth: someone just outside the right circles, who is paid to round out the number of guests at a dinner party. Amelia and Nathaniel Hawthorne circle one another headily throughout this book, in a way that utterly enchanted me, and at times, took my breath away. Their relationship was, for me, the biggest draw to the The Vespertine - their instant, irrevocable connection, and the way Saundra Mitchell explored it. It wasn't love at first sight, but it was interest and fascination at first sight. Nathaniel is forbidden; Amelia absolutely cannot marry him. That was part of their mutual attraction, but the other part was that these two characters shared something unbreakable and, in my opinion, were absolutely right for one another. The depth of their tenderness toward one another, in spite of some highly tense and breathless chase scenes, really rang true for me. It's not a game for either of them. I found them incredibly believable as a possible couple, even though in the sense that this book is a historical novel, "couple" isn't even the right term, not for what they were to one another.
I was also a huge, huge fan of the plot. By the synopsis's own admission, Amelia has visions, but what I loved so much was that they were woven into the story very well, and they were not the entire story. There is a whole cast of delightful and spunky characters in The Vespertine, and they all weave into Amelia's sunset visions, which originate almost as an accident, then become a regular occurrence, as callers begin to pour into the home where Amelia is staying with her cousins. The novel waltzes toward a climax, based on one of Amelia's visions, that does bring on the tragedy the synopsis hints at, in such a way that I was tearing through the pages to see what happened from that point on.
Another thing that greatly appealed to me was the few intervals in the present, where we saw a vastly changed Amelia. The bulk of the story is told several months in the past, when most of the plot takes place, but the interludes with Amelia back home with her brother and her sister-in-law were particularly poignant, for this is Amelia after. Shaken and bereft, we see her struggling to retain any sense of normalcy, and I thought those little breaks in the main plot were brilliantly done.
I also want to applaud Saunda Mitchell on her development of her secondary characters. There were several that I wish we had seen more of, but my favorite was Zora Stewart, Amelia's close-in-age cousin. Zora is even spunkier than Amelia (who tries to cling to propriety sometimes) and I just fell for Zora. I loved her side-plot, and by the end of the book, I wanted to see more with her (and it seems we will get to in the sequel, The Springsweet!)
The only reason that this is not a 5 star review is a simple one: I wish we had seen a little more info and back story on abilities like Amelia's, like where did she get hers? She is not the only character in this book with "powers"...and I really really hope the sequel delves further into why those that do have them, do, what all they can do with them, etc. It seemed like some of the abilities came out of nowhere. Other than that...I loved The Vespertine, and will be swooning over it for a long time to come.
Originally rated: 4.5 stars
Read more reviews at my book blog, Once Upon a Prologue