The Vespertine: A (rapid fire) Review

The Vespertine by Saundra Mitchell (2011)

The Vespertine by Saundra MitchellYou guys, I don’t even know how to talk about this book. I’m pretty sure this will have spoilers. Or maybe it has fundamental plot basics? I’m not sure. You have been warned.

From the looks of the pretty cover and the intriguing jacket text, this book looked like it would have everything I wanted. Historical fiction, check. Romance elements, check. Paranormal, fantastical visions, check.

The Vespertine has a lot of similarities to A Great and Terrible Beauty with its historical fantasy blended with ruminations on feminism and young women struggling against societal mores of the nineteenth century. Except for the girls in this book that struggle doesn’t turn out so well.

I was telling my mom earlier, I like my fantasies straightforward. I don’t need questions about whether it was all a dream or insanity or whatever. I want to take things at face value and when I hear supernatural I want to know it is true.

That didn’t happen here.

Amelia’s summer in Baltimore turns strange when she begins to see visions at sunset (vespers). But are the visions real? Are they madness? Is it both? Hard to say.

Nothing came together quite to my liking. The writing was a bit too stilted. Amelia was a bit too histrionic. She should be a likable narrator and her romance should be epic. But, for me, it just wasn’t.

I still don’t know what to make of the ending. Literal? Figurative? Again, hard to say.

The other problem, one that’s beyond the writing and my questions and everything else, is the fact that everything–Amelia included–is ruined at the start. There is no fixing anything, there is no hope. In any format, in any genre, that is my least favorite structure; looking back on a catastrophe from the aftermath. It’s hard to really follow that kind of destruction. It’s hard to care about a character when you already know, from the outset, that all hope is lost.

What I can say is that this book will have a lot of appeal to anyone with the patience to unravel the threads of a not entirely linear narrative (the story shifts a few times between Autumn and Spring of 1889) and draw their own conclusions–even if a lot of them are not, shall we say, optimistic. It’s an interesting blend of historical detail and something else–maybe fantasy, maybe not. And it’s a very interesting commentary on feminism and women of that period.

It just also happens to be a book I can’t connect with much as I wish it could be.