K.'s Reviews > The Vespertine

The Vespertine by Saundra Mitchell
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May 14, 11

bookshelves: ok-fine-its-ya, historical, 21st-cent, fantasy-sci-fi-dys
Read in May, 2011

Not bad.

I agree with those who condemn Saundra Mitchell for her awful diction. But, it isn't always. If I had been asked to rate The Vespertine based exclusively on the first several chapters, I'd have given it a one and gladly shoved it onto my shelves under blech, fail-books-that-should-burn and unfinished-and-i-don't-even-care, where it can amalgamate with other shameful wastes of ink and paper.

Surprisingly, it gets better. It was as if Mitchell had poured all of her wit of language into that first chapter; as if she had written, re-written, edited and wasted away attempting to sound Victorian and clever. Of course, as things go, when you try too hard it never works out. So, her language ended up convoluted and coarse (honestly, I understood maybe two words in total from that first chapter - I had no idea what was going on!) It's always better to be natural. And it gets there, or Saundra Mitchell gets there...though the book is never entirely free of her weird phrasing, gross attempts at romantic metaphors and annoying pursuit of poetic writing. They pop up occasionally but you just have to take it in stride. Her writing slows to a good rhythm, one we can actually read!

Her depiction of the period, however, I thought was good enough, meaning she didn't completely butcher it. She took liberties, let's say...or didn't do her research but all the same. Now, I'm no expert but yes, spiritualism was at its height of popularity during this time (Edward Bulwer-Lytton even went as far as hosting seances at his home and Arthur Conan Doyle had also been heavily involved in the field). I was actually quite surprised that Amelia didn't get enough attention as seer. She should've been all over that town but Mr. and Mrs. Stewart sort of just waited around, serving tea and biscuits as their niece allegedly told the future...? Anyway, I just wish it had a more dramatic role in the story because I was really excited that she took this topic on. Amelia just kind of sat there and "saw". On the back of this edition, its described as Victorian Gothic...um, no. If you're going to reduce this genre to its most basic definition as involving horror and romance, then sure, I guess you can fly with that but - no, not even actually. Anyway, just know, this isn't a proper Gothic novel. Perhaps, a very watered-down, very diluted, almost flavorless version.

Now, the characters I liked. They weren't extraordinary but they're certainly better than the most we get out there these days. Sure, they giggled. Sure, they gossiped and sure, they swooned but it didn't bug me. I actually got giddy with them...one word: Thomas. Yum. Zora, I liked. Amelia, I liked. I couldn't quite decide on Nathaniel. Part of me found him really creepy but then half way, he got normal and then creepy again. I know not.


This is long enough. I think writing this took longer than reading the actual book. It took me an afternoon so you won't really be wasting too much time if you end up hating The Vespertine. It has its flaws but give Mitchell a chance, she's not bad.
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