It looks as though Ms Gilman wrote one mighty novel and her publishers decided to break it into smaller, more remunerative segments. It ends abruptly and without resolution of any elements of plot. It's impossible to believe that a competent writer, as she shows herself to be in this section of her book, could consider this to be a complete work. That said, she has created an engaging hero in Jerzy and a world rich in dramatic potential. He's an apprentice in the magic of wine-making and the making of magic wines. This volume takes him from slavery, through his apprenticeship and leaves him fleeing an unjust conviction at the hands of a still unknown evil enemy. This is all sorcery and no sword. No bad thing, but disappointingly incomplete. Wait until all its segments have been published then settle down for the marathon read. It shows some sign of being worth it.
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The author, it appears, had been challenged in jest to write a fantasy based around food and wine, and essentially that is what she's done. The food is dispensed with and we have a world in which magic is channelled through grapes and the spellwines that are derived from them. Vinearts (who are both grape-farmers and magicians) employ slaves to tend the vineyards and from these slaves apprentices are selected, since it is stress that creates the best Vinearts. A young slave, Jerzy, is selected by his master Malech, and taken from the fields to the Great House to be trained as a Vineart. He progresses well, but soon rumours begin to circulate of unnatural magic, sea serpents and blights devouring vines. It becomes clear that some unknown power is setting Vineart against Vineart and nation against nation. It's an easy read, the first book of a trilogy - which is more or less depressingly obligatory with fantasy novels - and one which fails to provide any depth to any of the characters other than the protagonist, and even he seems remarkably well-balanced for a boy who's been beaten and sexually abused most of his life. In order to try and discover further information Malech, Jerzy's master, sends him to another land (let's call it Italy, as it might as well be) to exchange knowledge on Vine magic with another Vineart, Giordan. This upsets the religious faction, the Collegium, who feel that for a Vineart to learn the secrets of another is against the spirit, if not the law, of the world's religion. Meanwhile, evil things are happening here and there. That's about it... story continued in next volume.Read more ›
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Wine connoisseurs already know that there is something special about the juice of the grape. Wine is perhaps unique amongst all the various liquids humans imbibe, with richly varied, very complex fragrances, bodies, and tastes, and wine masters know just how difficult and delicate growing just the right vine in the right soil and weather conditions can be to produce the truly spectacular wine. Ms. Gilman builds on these characteristics to create an entire system of magic based on wines, where wines can be used to cast spells appropriate to their particular type , a rather unique idea, and she accompanies this basic concept with an entire society built around the consequences.
The book follows a young man, Jerzy, from ordinary slave tending the vines to apprentice Vineart, and further to where we can see him flower into a person confident in at least some of his abilities and belief in his own value judgments. As such, this is certainly a coming-of-age story, and nicely done. As sidelights to Jerzy's growing knowledge we see more and more of the society he is part of, from the bucolic vineyards to the more complex cities, princes, traders, religion, and power intrigues. Secondary characters receive a fair amount of character development, and it is easy to empathize with just about all of them.
This is clearly only the first book of a series. While Jerzy's maturation is near-complete in this book, the plot arc of new dangers facing what had been a static society does not get any real resolution, which is obviously slated for later books. Because of this, the end of this book does feel a bit rushed and incomplete.Read more ›
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Flesh and Fire follows the story of Jerzy, a slave who becomes an apprentice Vineart. A Vineart is a magician who grows the grapes which make magic wine - an original and well-described magic system which is much more interesting than I can make it sound in this review. But the Vinearts of the world are coming under covert attack from an unknown enemy. Poor Jerzy has to help his master investigate the attacks, ultimately being sent on a spy mission to a foreign city - all while he's much too young and inexperienced.
I liked the writing and the development of Jerzy as a character. World-building other than the magic system was relatively limited, effectively growing with Jerzy's education, so the reader is not overwhelmed with strange names too early. I suspect we will see more of the world in the next book.
To the reviewers complaining that the book is unfinished: stop whining! The book clearly says it's book one. You know there are going to be more books. If you don't like unfinished series, why not just wait for the Ms Gilman to publish the next books instead of cluttering up everyone else's reviews? I actually liked the ending - without spoiling it, I can say that there is resolution of one sub-plot, and the plot in book two is clearly about to go off in a new direction.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
A nice read, but ends far too soon22 Aug 2009
- Published on Amazon.com
This book definitely reads like the first in a trilogy. It rather conspicuously lacks an ending. How I wish that someone would write a decent stand-alone fantasy novel...
Anyway, it takes a very very long time to get to anything that resembles plot development around Jerzy, the main character. This is not to say that the book lacks plot development entirely, rather it is separated and disjointed over the course of the book and doesn't start to become more apparent until Malech, Jerzy's teacher, sends his charge away to study with someone else. Then there are some strange goings on, some eavesdropping, and other mayhem culminating in an exciting escape. Then the book ends.
Now there are reasons to read this book. The system of magic described is pretty interesting. Why? Because grape juice from certain grapes is magical... and some of them just make good wine :) There's a lot of description and explanation of how it works, who can use and make such things and why they do that in the first place. I thought it clever, original and well thought out.
The characters also seemed to be well thought out. While the exposition of those characters seemed to drag at times, I thought that the characters themselves weren't all that bad. Unfortunately, all the ones that intrigued me right off the bat died all too quickly... but that seems to be my tough luck. Ao was my favorite. He got to live. :)
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Robust introduction book to a fantasy series about magic wine12 Sep 2009
Plot Summary: I've always thought that wine is magical stuff, but this book truly takes that idea to the next level in this fantasy full of spellwines, mages, and slaves. Jerzy was kidnapped from his family long ago, and he's grown up as a slave to a Master Vineart, one of the revered magicians who craft spellwines. When Jerzy's inherent abilities are noticed by Malech, he's taken into the Master's house to train as a student. The Vinearts live like monks, shut up and isolated from the outside world, but an evil magic is slowly unravelling the peace and prosperity of their civilization, and Malech sends Jerzy on a mission.
I predict this novel will be sold in gift shops throughout Napa Valley, and anyone who loves a good fantasy should be well satisfied. I was in the mood for something unique when I decided to try this one, because hey, it's not everyday I see a fantasy that involves magic wine. What impressed me the most was the incredibly detailed world building that dominates the entire story. It's a strength and also a weakness, because so much of this book was about setting the stage, and I think some readers will be impatient for the action to commence.
I wish more stories would take time to craft the master and apprentice relationship, because it's never boring, and unusually complex. There's devotion, servitude, obedience, rebellion, and hopefully, deeply ingrained respect. Jerzy's time as a slave came very close to breaking his spirit, and his growth mirrors the vines that he tends. Alas, there was no romance, and it doesn't look promising, but this fantasy is deep enough to hold my interest even without it.
It looks like more books will be coming, one about every October, and I think it's fitting that this follows the actual grape harvest period. I'll keep my eyes open for book two this time next year.
Laura Anne Gilman has created a new concept in magic.
In Flesh and Fire: Book One of The Vineart War, the source of magical power is grapes (very special grapes of diverse genetics) made into wine and then enspelled to specialize the raw magical power into useful forms.
Once a Vine-art has enspelled a mature wine, it lasts about a year and allows those with no magical power to cast that one, prepared, spell the wine contains.
A Vineart, however, can use even specialized wine to do -- well, we don't know the limits of what a Vineart might do yet.
We live the lessons a young vineart in training goes through, the initiation by immersion in spelled wine, the visceral contact the young magician makes with the source of magic as he gains control over the power. We learn what it feels like to be a vineart.
We also learn the cosmogany of this universe. Originally, magic was used by Prince-Mages, magicians who held political power, and their main occupation was war. A god sundered the bond between politics and magic, creating princes and vinearts, who were Commanded not to meddle in each others' affairs.
Now, however, some magic that vinearts don't recognize is stirring, destroying villages, prompting Princes to change their personal character and act irrationally.
With only occasional glimpses of the affairs of others, we follow Jerzy, the young magician's apprentice through his lessons and into his first field assignment in a royal court. Jerzy earnestly follows instructions and orders, and because of that is catapulted into the role of Hero on a journey we can see will be many novels in the telling.
Frankly, I'm looking forward to more stories of the Vineart Wars, hoping we will follow Jerzy through his greatest epiphanies.
The premise of this fantasy world is that all magic is found in special grapes, which when made into "spell wines", allows people to tap into the actual magical properties. Each type of grape can only thrive in one region, thereby dividing the power among several people instead of it being concentrated in the hands of the one person or group. Of course, in true high fantasy style, there is the unknown antagonist who wishes to "rule the world" and is attempting to consolidate the power in his/her hands.
This novel was an excellent "Book One" of a series. The characters are intriguing and realistic, the settings are well defined, and the overall plot moves along nicely. I eagerly await the next book in the series.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
A great world and fantasy adventure14 Feb 2011
- Published on Amazon.com
Format: Mass Market Paperback
Well, what can I say? Flesh and Fire was simply a wonderful read. I picked it up at Borders on a hunch, simply because I saw it was Hugo Award Nominee and looked pretty. And I like wine, and I wondered how on earth one could craft a magic system around wine. Great choice on my part.
Flesh and Fire follows a young slave named Jerzy in his rise from the life of a laborer into an apprenticeship to his owner, a vine-mage. Throughout the book we watch Jerzy flung into a world of learning and social upset, transformed from a beat-down slave to the "young master", something he is not entirely comfortable with. Jerzy isn't a stereotypically perfect hero: as his own master thinks frequently, during his own chapters, Jerzy has his own host of problems such as doubtful timidity and insecurity. But events in the outside world force the master to train Jerzy as fast as possible, and in the second half of the book, throws him to the wolves in a life-changing adventure that flirts with violating the religious laws of the land.
But even in his new environment, Jerzy grows and learns, and it really is wonderful to watch Jerzy grow more skilled and confident in himself, both in working with the vines, the magical spellwine, and with people. The book ends on a cliffhanger, and boy am I glad that I read this book after the sequel, Weight of Stone: Book Two of the Vineart War was released. I am reading the Kindle sample now, and despite its higher-than-usual price, I am devouring the sample and will be purchasing it directly after submitting this review. Flesh and Fire was that good; it fully warrants buying the sequel immediately.
Flesh and Fire isn't perfect, shifts in character can be abrupt, specifically for Jerzy's master, Malach. Also, some supporting characters, who we at first think will be significant, like the house keeper, Detta, fade into insignificance. But this doesn't stop me from giving it 5 stars. This book grabbed me, kept me reading right to the end only 24 hours after purchasing it. The engrossing story very much outweighed the minor flaws in the story for me, and so I feel it is right to award 5 stars (I love it) versus 4 (I like it).
If you enjoy fantasy, imperfect protagonists, interesting magic systems with good world-building, I very much advise you to give Flesh and Fire a try!