May 19, 2012

Review: The Vespertine

By: Saundra Mitchell
Published: March 2011 by Harcourt
Format: Hardback, 293 pages
First Reviewed: April 2011
Buy: Barnes & Noble//Books-A-Million//Amazon//Book Depository
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Jump with me...

It’s the summer of 1889, and Amelia van den Broek is new to Baltimore and eager to take in all the pleasures the city has to offer. But her gaiety is interrupted by disturbing, dreamlike visions she has only at sunset—visions that offer glimpses of the future. Soon, friends and strangers alike call on Amelia to hear her prophecies. However, a forbidden romance with Nathaniel, an artist, threatens the new life Amelia is building in Baltimore. This enigmatic young man is keeping secrets of his own—still, Amelia finds herself irrepressibly drawn to him.
When one of her darkest visions comes to pass, Amelia’s world is thrown into chaos. And those around her begin to wonder if she’s not the seer of dark portents, but the cause.

Rating: 3/5

I must say upfront that I hate when books don't come with some kind of tagline. Dog-gone-it, I don't like coming up with something to put at the beginning of reviews. Anyway, if you read the description, you should already know that I was excited to drive into this. Historical fiction with a psychic-type twist set in Victorian Baltimore?! Come on! Be amazing! was not.

I would say that I'm not going to repeat myself, but that would be a lie. Any setting that I love deserves to be praised. Victorian Baltimore. Loved it. And considering Mitchell did a great job capturing this time period, I loved it even more. Sadly, it's nearly the only thing I loved about this.

I never connected with Amelia. While she had a great time period appropriate voice, she was just a character. I didn't feel any substance to her. As for the other characters, you might as well just laugh at me or something because I don't even remember everyone's name. This is not because there were too many characters--there weren't--it's because they were so dull that I couldn't care less about them. My favorite character was one that was only in a few chapters. However, the male lead, if you could call him that, was better than the majority of the characters, even though he wasn't as intriguing and mysterious as I would have liked. With these characters, it was more of great voices instead of great voices and great personalities.

I'm going to get my pet peeves with the writing out first, that way I can concentrate on the good. First: She did a lot of those "Doing this, I did this" sentences, and after a while, they kind of grated on my nerves. Second: Adverbs drove me nuts for the majority of the book. Then Mitchell got out using them every paragraph and it because a much, much smoother ride. Now, that's all that really bothered me. The writing ended up being the other thing besides the setting that I really liked. Mitchell grasped the voices and the tone of this time period well. Apart from some minor "modern" slip-ups, sometimes I even felt like this was a book from the late 1800's. She has beautiful prose, and if she had some great characterization and plotting to go along with it, she'd be one of those incredible authors. Oh, wait, I have one more thing to critique, and excuse the all caps, this just drove me nuts. NAMES ARE NAMES!!! Okay, back to normal typing. Names are names, please add the apostrophe "s." Nathaniel's hands. Thomas's hands. Not Thomas' hands. Dear jeezus...all right, back to the review.

Where this book lost me was the boringness of the plot. In the opening chapter, I was intrigued and excited to drive into the world and Amelia's story, but after the second chapter, I was just bored. Nothing really happened, and once we got to the climax, I was ready for some intensity. But I was just disappointed. It's clear that this is supposed to be a historical romance with a paranormal twist, but the romance and paranormal elements were just bland. With what Amelia could do, I expected so much more. Yes, there was some surprises, but it just wasn't enough. The ending chapter even made me a bit sad, because it was set up so nicely and give me that feeling of something tugging at my heart, but then I thought back to the rest of the book. Oh, how I wish the content between the opening and ending chapters would have been just as breathtaking.

With beautiful prose, a fantastic premise, and a setting almost everyone loves (am I right?), this book had so much going for it, but it just didn't deliver. It was, however, a decent read, and I enjoyed reading Mitchell's writing and being in Victorian Baltimore for a few hours.

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