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A Unique Bouquet,
This review is from: Flesh and Fire (Vineart War) (Hardcover)
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)