The Vespertine by Saundra Mitchell
'The Vespertine' is a dreamily elegant and haunting historical romance set in Baltimore in 1889. It starts off with our main character Amelia Van Den Broek in the autumn of 1889 locked in an attic-almost mad and suicidal- lamenting the summer gone past, before she was "ruined". We then jump to the Spring of that year, and are introduced to Amelia as a sunny, excited, optimistic young girl arriving in Baltimore for the season, awe-struck by her surroundings, sent by her brother to hopefully make a good marriage match. The tale then begins to show how she went from hopeful, happy and naive, to alone and despairing. We begin to discover what happened to her that summer.
It is a little slow to begin with, but the story does pick up the pace, so it is worth sticking with, and it begins to take you in an unexpected direction that you wouldn't see coming at first, and I loved the ending. There is a small element of magic and mystery in the story, but not enough to distract you from the historical. The author has weaved the supernatural seamlessly into the story, while still leaving you with the impression that you are actually there in nineteenth century Baltimore. Amelia has a gift of seeing glimpses of the future at sunset, but it is her innocence, in how she uses that power and others judgement/perception of this power that is her downfall.
The forbidden relationship that gradually forms between Amelia and Nathaniel, a struggling artist is moving and beautiful. She is drawn to him even though she knows that she shouldn't be, and their meetings and interactions are limited by the expected propriety of the time. But their feelings quickly advance to love and Amelia finds that she can't give him up. You feel an ominous sense of looming disaster from knowing from the first chapter that their romance cannot end well, yet you are compelled to know what happens. Amelia's cousin Zora who she quickly forms a warm friendship with stops her from making too many mistakes and guides Amelia through the ettiquette of society, helping her choose her cards and dresses. These two genuinely look out for each other, and when tragedy strikes, leaves you feeling in pain for their suffering.
If you love a victorian setting, lyrical prose, and a mystical love story, give this one a try.
ARC thanks to Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishers and netgalley.com
Synposis 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.