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Posts Tagged ‘Saundra Mitchell’

It’s book Monday!  For those new to Steamed, Book Monday is an occasional feature where I talk about a (usually) Steampunk book I really enjoy and think you will, too. 

The Vespertine

by Saundra Mitchell

Review copy provided by Harcourt Children’s Books

The Vespertine isn’t Steampunk, it’s a Victorian historical.  I was attracted to it because it’s about Amelia, who goes to Baltimore for ball season in Baltimore in 1889 in order to make a good match.  I *adore* balls and fluffy Victorian dresses.  But this isn’t some light, fluffy story.  No, the balls and dresses simply set the stage for a  lush historical tale of longing, social games, forbidden love, and just a hint of magic. 

Magic?

Yes, I just used the “m” word.

I wasn’t expecting a paranormal element, but for me it added so much depth to the story.  Amelia starts getting dreamlike, and sometimes disturbing, visions at sunset.  At first, these visions skyrocket her popularity, as she only has months to meet the right people to make the right match.  But soon her visions start coming true, and when the darkest things she sees happen, there’s no turning back and could ruin everything she’s come to Baltimore to achieve.

The Victorians did love their visions and esoteric mysteries so this paranormal element meshes very well, making it really (to me) a historical with paranormal elements rather than a full-on Victorian fantasy or even Gaslamp…though the mysterious Nathaniel bring it awfully close to Gaslamp territory (and I do love me a good Gaslamp). 

Ah, Nathaniel.

Who doesn’t love a good story about forbidden love? 

Amelia meets Nathaniel at a party.  But Nathaniel isn’t there to make a good match, like she is.  He is an artist who hires himself out at a “fourteenth”, so there’s never an unlucky thirteen  guests.  Nathaniel and Amelia are instantly attracted, and of course, a poor artists isn’t the type of guy she was sent to find to marry in Baltimore.  But this isn’t as typical of a story-line as you might think.  There relationship is complicated, and even though the attraction is there from the start, they have to work  to develop it, making the relationship portions of the story very fresh and intriguing. 

Amelia is a great character, not an insipid Victorian socialite, but a rather plucky, independent girl who’s sent alone to her cousin’s to experience the wonders of the big city and the decadence of ball season, wonders she’s never seen before, which lends to some great moments.  Imagine what it might be like to see a big city for the first time, or go to your very first ball wearing a ridiculously beautiful, extravagant gown by the lkes you’d only seen before in magazines? 

Then imagine discovering you have abilities that could, if exploited right, help your social standing, brining you into contact with all the “right” girls?

And what about falling in love? 

Or the fear that one wrong step, like even being in the same room alone with a man, could lead to your ruin?

Or that the man you love is not one you could marry?

The whole tale is richly woven, textured, and decadent, like a really good chocolate truffle.  The tale very lyrical  and I devoured most of it in one sitting. 

There are no automatons or rayguns, and fans of action packed stories may find it oddly quite (but not boring, her attention to detail and compelling story see to that).  Overall, this is a very compelling read. 

And the end.

Oh yes. 

The end will take your breath away.

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Today, as Steampunkapalooza 2011 continues, I’d like to welcome Saundra Mitchell, author of the young adult book The Vespertine.

Saundra Mitchell has been a phone psychic, a car salesperson, a denture-deliverer and a layout waxer. She’s dodged trains, endured basic training, and hitchhiked from Montana to California. She teaches herself languages, raises children, and makes paper for fun. She’s also a screenwriter for Fresh Films and the author of Shadowed Summer and The Vespertine, and the forthcoming The Springsweet. She always picks truth; dares are too easy.

 

Let’s Go Dancing

by Saundra Mitchell

Let it be resolved that in 1889, it wasn’t just the upper crust who danced the night away during their rigid and formalized ball season. The American middle class did just as much fan flirting and dance-card gaming as their wealthier counterparts, but I suspect they had more fun doing it.

Without vast empires to merge and old money to protect with proper matches, the middle class showed up at their balls… to dance. To flirt, and fall in love; to gossip and steal sips of brandied punch. But, since the very-well-heeled weren’t opening their private ballrooms to the masses, the masses instead attended public balls.

Public balls were often held as fundraisers- they might be for a charity, or a public works project. Sometimes, to raise money for a church or synagogue. Unions also played host, as well as social clubs. And then there were plenty that were simply money-making ventures. Hotels especially enjoyed the extra revenue of hosting public balls on the holidays.

There were no invitations to manuever. Public balls were advertised in newspapers, and notices were posted in the post office and in other meeting places. For a fee, anywhere from a nickel to several dollars, anyone could attend, as long as they were properly dressed. (And yes, that meant along with specifically segregated balls, some public dances were multicultural events.)

Sometimes, you’d pay your admission in advance- dance cards often served double duty as the ticket. Others took cash at the door. Once inside, you’d find a string quartet or brass band in the corner providing music, a refreshment parlor and a ladies’ necessary. Unlike private affairs, public balls didn’t generally include dinner.

Which means you pay your money, you get your dance card, and you get straight to flirting, straight to the intrigue, straight to the best part of ball-going season: the dancing. Who said the rich get to have all the fun?

~Saundra Mitchell

http://thevespertine.com

 

I have a copy of The Vespertine to give away to one lucky commenter.  Contest ends April 11 at 11:59 pm PST, contest open internationally.  So if you went to a Victorian ball, what part of it would you look forward to the most?

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