Thursday, 7 June 2012

Review: The Springsweet by Saundra Mitchell

Heartbroken over the tragic death of her fiancé, seventeen-year-old Zora Stewart leaves Baltimore for the frontier town of West Glory, Oklahoma, to help her young widowed aunt keep her homestead going. There she discovers that she possesses the astonishing ability to sense water under the parched earth. When her aunt hires her out as a "springsweet” to advise other settlers where to dig their wells, Zora feels the burden of holding the key to something so essential to survival in this unforgiving land. Even more, she finds herself longing for love the way the prairie thirsts for water. Maybe, in the wildness of the territories, Zora can finally move beyond simply surviving and start living.

I absolutely adored ‘The Vespertine’ last year – it was one of my top reads of 2012 and as a result I couldn’t wait to read ‘The Springsweet’ for a number of reasons.
Firstly, Saundra Mitchell’s writing is exquisite. She brought a hauntingly lyrical quality of writing to The Vespertine that swept me up with the story and took me away to Baltimore and teas and balls and the illicit love affair of a touch and the decadence of the visions that came to Amelia in the dying light of the day. And secondly because I loved Zora in The Vespertine, and was utterly heartbroken for her by the end of the first book. So there were a lot of very high expectations as I went into ‘The Springsweet’.

There is something so incredibly beautiful about Saundra Mitchell’s prose – it has a lyrical poetic quality that wrap the reader up and sweep them away with gossamer descriptions and sensations. It’s delicate and breath taking, yet also resilient and powerful and incredibly well-crafted with simple twists of words and phrases that together provide such an incredible effect.

I adored Zora. I loved the girl she was in ‘The Vespertine’ but I also loved watching her transform into the woman she was meant to be in ‘The Springsweet’. As Zora comes to embrace the wilderness around her, she comes to embrace herself, conquer the grief that has plagued her, and use her newfound gifts to create new possibilities. She is such a wonderful character, full of grief but desperate to try and keep going and find some part of a life that she can keep living. Full of desperation and heartache that she battles to supress to start with, but as she comes to accept that it’s now a part of her she matures and grows into this incredible young woman. She feels absolutely of her time, but all the while is incredibly vibrant and easily relatable for a modern audience.

Part of the incredible beauty of the book is in its fine balance of realism and magic, but this is handled so deftly that it doesn’t stand out as being a fantasy book. Mitchell naturalizes the magic so that it feels like a skill, a beautiful extension of the persons soul manifest in physical form. It was so good to see more elements at play after the fire and air of the first book, and the earth and water completely complement each other – it was incredibly beautiful to watch how the magic was handled and written, and in turn how Zora and Emmerson interacted. It provides an ethereal undertone to the book, but in no way does it take away from the main themes shown, of the thrill and freedom of frontier life, of the desperation and heartache of losing someone you love, and ultimately a coming of age story as Zora learns to find and accept herself for who she is.

Every character is deftly constructed, lovingly detailed and an integral part of Zora’s story, no matter how briefly. Mitchell has a rare gift, a multiple gift almost with her ability to construct breathlessly beautiful prose, believable and complete characters and incredible settings. She has quickly moved into not only my favourite authors list, but the ones to watch as well. I am desperate to see where she goes from here, not only in the third book in the series, but also following this. Such incredible gifts can only produce exquisite stories, and I cannot wait to read them all.

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