Format: Hardcover, 304 pages
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.
First line: I woke in Oakhaven entirely ruined.
I can describe this book in seven adjectives. Ready? Vivid. Developed. Lyrical. Hilarious. Captivating. Romantic. Amazing.
Vivid. This story takes place in 1889, when Amelia van der Broek goes to Baltimore from Maine to spend the summer with her cousin,in hopes to find a suitable husband. Now, I’m assuming that Saundra Mitchell has never been to Baltimore in 1889. I could be wrong and she could have a TARDIS in her backyard—but I doubt it. You would never know that from reading this book. Every detail, every line of dialogue is exactly what I imagine 1889 would be. I mean, she nailed it. It’s as if she visited and took notes on the experience—or has lived forever with the soul purpose of writing this book. I can’t imagine that it was easy, but it’s done flawlessly. Jane Austen would be proud.
Developed. This is to talk about the characters because I need to say that Amelia is one of the best and most unique protagonists I’ve ever encountered. I loved her from the first page—with her excitement and honesty and demeanor. I even love what she turns into at the end. It was very fitting. In fact, all of Mitchell’s characters are well-developed and purposeful. I found myself liking all of them—or disliking them if I was supposed to. They were very strong and really made the story.
Lyrical. Mitchell has this amazing ability to take a simple moment or emotion and write the most amazing lines. I mean, I’ve read a lot of brilliant books but there were moments I had to stop and re-read them, take them in. They were THAT good. I pulled out some examples:
"He drew me to the floor and the crowd dissolved. They could've danced in London, for as distant as they seemed. Nathaniel took one hand and rested his other on my waist, branding me deliciously. We moved, somehow elemental. I felt like fire, the skies poured rain that rattled on the roof, the earth wavered to teach us the steps of this dance, and like air we floated across the floor together. We were all four points on the map, turning and turning like a compass."
“His murmurs slipped into me, onto me, warming me in his familiar way. If he knew my thoughts, he knew my wanton, wilding desire to hide away with him. Longing felt like a thread, slipping between us, sewing us together.”
Hilarious. Amelia is a fun character—especially when she’s in the presence of Zora and Mattie and Sarah. Imagine a group of young women who laugh and talk about boys, play, dream, imagine…the scenes between the four of them are so funny. I caught myself smiling a lot in this book. Even the exchanges between Zora and Amelia are amusing. They are more like sisters and best friends. I found many of the moments between them reminding me of Jane & Elizabeth (Pride and Prejudice.) as they shared the banter and honesty and laughter. They always had each other’s backs and I like that.
Captivating. Imagine if you will a picture of 1889 that you’ve seen in movies. Now, add in premonitions that make no sense, secrets, powers, disappearing men, scandal and death. Yea. All of that’s in here. This book will keep you guessing. It will keep you hanging on until the end because it gets better and better with every passing page. By the end, I couldn’t look away. I had to know what would happen. Mitchell so elegantly pieced together this story and every scene—from beginning to end—is perfection. There are subtle clues but you can’t even pick them up until you look back from the end! She builds up in the story in a way I can’t even explain, but you know that eventually something is going to happen to destroy it all. You don’t know what it is and it’s so crazy-awesome that you can’t even guess. That is good story-telling.
Romantic. “All I want is to be the thing that distracts him and troubles him and sweetly disturbs him from morning ‘til night.” Yup. That’s romantic!! I was saving this point because it’s not the main focus of the story but it’s an important one. And one that grows as the story develops, which makes me like it more!
Amelia lives in a time where women get married. That’s their worth, in some ways. Everyone needs a husband. It’s why she went to Baltimore—to find a good man. But Amelia doesn’t fall for a good man. She falls for a mysterious one, one that others say she probably shouldn’t fall for. He’s not good for her. And she struggles with that. She can’t figure him out. Is he good? Is he bad? What is his secret? That’s the making of a great romance right there! I absolutely love Nathananiel. He’s so edgy and rebellious and mysterious. I like that. He’s dark, artsy and swoon-worthy MEGA. I won’t tell you anything but it is good. There are other boys—Thomas Rea & Caleb to name just two—but Nathaniel has my heart.
Amazing. This is the last adjective because it’s all encompassing. This book is brilliantly good. It has everything a book needs. I can’t recommend it enough. I loved, loved it. If this is any indication of what’s to come from Saundra Mitchell, we’re in for a treat. I mean, I liked Shadowed Summer but The Vespertine is remarkable. She outdid herself and I, for one, am impressed.
Also, this is my favorite line: “Everything’s extraordinary. And everything that isn’t sweetens the rest.”