I have but one word to describe this book: gorgeous.
Okay, okay, that's a fairly bold statement to make. But, The Vintner's Luck being as criminally unknown as it is, only readily available in its nation of origin (New Zealand), I feel I have to make a case for its beauty and sheer energy that kept me turning the pages.
Well, maybe not turning the pages as quickly as I could. I would read ten to twenty pages at a time and need some time to gather my feelings and think carefully upon what I had just read. If that makes any sense.
Now, some of you may be going: "Vanessa, how on Earth could you call this novel 'criminally unknown'? A film starring Gaspard Ulliel, the handsome Frenchman from Hannibal Rising, and Keisha Castle-Hughes from Whale Rider (and its same director) was released in 2009!" Well, the film was critically panned by everybody who saw its first screening at a Toronto film festival, and the author herself said the film missed the point of her novel so badly it made her cry. Certainly not an accolade to be proud of, in any case.
Read the book. It is probably a lot better than the movie - which I haven't gotten around to seeing yet.
The book covers so many more themes, and it really made me think on a spiritual level from time to time. I really loved how whenever Xas (the angel in the story) is around, the writing takes on a hushed, religious tone. Elizabeth Knox is also one of these rare authors who can seriously deliver literary punches to the gut. Characters die at the tip of a hat. Alliances are broken. Secrets are revealed. Each and every time this happened, I felt so horribly shaken up. Also, this is the first book I've read where I nearly let out a wail of pain in my workplace while reading a particular part of the story.
I had to doff my cap to this book - it actually gets angel mythology. I have read so many awful books in my short existence which try to figure in angels, or their fallen brethren, and while it works absolutely splendidly here and in Susan Ee's Angelfall, and Kaori Yuki's Angel Sanctuary, it was soul-crushingly awful in Lauren Kate's Fallen and Becca Fitzpatrick's Hush, Hush series. Don't even get me started on Alexandra Adornetto's Halo series...
Xas is one of the best-written angel characters I have ever read. He's aloof from mankind, yet compassionate. He's well-read, but wants to learn more about this world. He's supposedly a holy, flawless creature whose mere presence commands authority, but he doubts himself. In short, everything you'd expect an angel to be like. Not Adornetto's sappy heroine, or Fitzpatrick's repulsive supernatural love interest.
The story takes place in Napoleonic France, throughout the life of a vintner named Sobran Jodeau. He meets with an angel named Xas, and they make a deal: Xas will pay Sobran a visit once a year. It's an unusual friendship, but it blossoms over the years, has its fair share of setbacks (including a heartbreaking thirty or so pages during which Sobran becomes incredibly pious and refuses to see Xas at all), and also its fair share of positives, as Xas and Sobran wind up falling more and more in love with each other.
Of course, this book isn't just about Xas The Awesome Angel(tm). Sobran faces problems with his family, his social circle, his romantic life, and his own conscience as he falls more and more for the poor angel who he can't love and who can't love him back and... sob sob sob.
I apologise for talking about Alexandra Adornetto's Halo series again, but I feel I must in order to make a point. While holier-than-thou angel Bethany is allowed to flounce around, leaving chaos in her and her true love's wake, she never seems to suffer any repercussions for it. She was reprimanded by the council of archangels in the first book for merely hugging her (human) boyfriend, yet everything else seems perfectly fine. From what I have heard of the third book, she manages to get married to aforementioned human boyfriend, and gets away with it scot-free. All Heaven does is... jiggle the ground a little bit and kill some innocent people in a passive-aggressive gesture. All while Bethany just smiles, makes a stupid comment, and looks adoringly into Xavier's walnut-almond-nutmeg-cinnamon-hazelnut eyes. Blech.
What does the Archangel Michael do to Xas when he falls in love with a human?
Waits for him to come out of one of Heaven's weak spots, then beats the living tar out of him. Xas' side, and part of his wing is also blistered and burned. Yeah. Even more horrible is that it gets worse later on in the book, a moment which nearly made me cry with how unfair it was to poor Xas.
My only real complaint about this book is that it meandered quite a lot over the last 40 or so pages, and there were parts where my interest was beginning to wane...
However, it is definitely one of the best books I have ever read, and one I very much look forward to returning to some day. If you want a truly beautiful romance between a human and an angel that will really make you think, you couldn't go wrong with The Vintner's Luck. Just stay the heck away from the movie. 4.5/5.