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One highly opinionated feminist YA nerd's twisted, snarky and informative journey through the genre's perils, pitfalls and sparkles.

Review - "The Vespertine" by Saundra Mitchell.

“The Vespertine”

Author: Saundra Mitchell.

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Pages: 304.

Summary (taken from GoodReads): 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.

Cover impressions: This book’s had a couple of cover changes and the newest one is most definitely my favourite. There’s been a lot of blog buzz around this book, the second one by Mitchell, with many YA authors trumpeting their praises from the high heights of Twitter and such, so I was particularly excited when I received an ARC on NetGalley (best website ever, thanks to much to them and the publishers for winging it my way.) I have a serious soft spot for YA mysteries set in the Victorian period and I hadn’t read one set in America before so I was eager to dive in.

Starting off with the positives, I thoroughly enjoyed the prose. It was enjoyable to read and didn’t feel overdone or pretentious. With such period settings, especially when written in 1st person, it’s all too easy to get carried away or let your guard slip but Mitchell does a good job with the prose; it was the thing that kept me reading the book through most of it. For the most part I also enjoyed Amelia, the protagonist. She’s practical and fully aware of the societal expectations weighing down on her as well as possessing a wit a little out of place for her standing in society. She wasn’t the greatest protagonist I’ve ever read in such a setting (I also give kudos to Mitchell for going with Baltimore as the setting, it’s a place I’ve never seen before in period drama YA, and much of it is described very well in the novel) but she was more than serviceable. Unfortunately, for me, she was also the only memorable character in the story.

As much as I loved the prose and liked Amelia, the deathly slow pace of the novel and sporadic appearances of the plot seriously disappointed me. The novel opened intriguingly yet Mitchell seemed to forget she was supposed to be writing a paranormal novel for large stretches of time. The paranormal element could have been dropped completely and it probably wouldn’t have made much difference. If the novel was shorter, maybe a novella, and a more straightforward period romance about a girl and the social expectations plaguing her life, it would have been much better. I wonder if Mitchell has ever written any short stories; if not she should definitely write some because her prose is excellent and I feel would be suited better to something less drawn out.

“The Vespertine” started off so promisingly and for all its faults there are also many positive things to say about it. Giving this book a rating was a tough one. The prose is very high quality for YA, I enjoyed the protagonist and the setting was well realised, but the plotting, pacing and under-developed paranormal elements are so poor in comparison that the novel is just so boring for long stretches. There’s a lot to like but getting through all the bad stuff to see it might not be worth your while. I do hope Mitchell can improve with her problematic areas because her prose deserves better (she is writing a companion novel to this, entitled “The Springsweet” and I think she’s definitely got the imagination to support it.


“The Vespertine” will be available in USA from March 7th.

I've got a few books to review coming up, including Lauren Myracle's latest, Julie Kagawa's Iron Fey trilogy and a couple more. Stay tuned!

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