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on 26 February 2011
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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on 25 December 2013
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.
It's difficult to see why this should have been nominated for the coveted Nebula Award, alongside the winner, Paolo Bacigalupi's `The Windup Girl' and Mieville's `The City and The City' unless it was a particularly slow year for fantasy since this is nowhere close to an award-winning novel. One also has to question whether a novel that can not in any sense be described as a stand-alone piece should be nominated for any awards before parts two and three see the light of day.
All very peculiar.
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on 12 November 2009
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. Also, the ending introduces a sudden change from religious representatives as observers and soul-enriching priests to something reminiscent of the Inquisition, which comes as a little bit of a shock, and perhaps this area could have used a little bit more prior build up, though it certainly does introduce a strong thematic element into what otherwise is a fairly straightforward tale.

A very good beginning, but the true strength of this work probably can't be fully evaluated till the rest of the series is in place.

---Reviewed by Patrick Shepherd (hyperpat)
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on 8 January 2012
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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