Free books and a free stuffed meerkat at the end of the review!
Flesh and Fire [Amazon | B&N | Mysterious Galaxy] is the Nebula-nominated first book in Laura Anne Gilman‘s Vineart War Trilogy. Gilman dedicates the book to her agent Jennifer Jackson, “whose casual suggestion ‘write me a food- or wine-based fantasy’ … triggered the idea that became these books.”
The idea of wine-based magic is very much the heart of this book, and it’s a nifty idea indeed. Even for someone like me, who doesn’t drink alcohol.
Our protagonist is a boy named Jerzy, a slave to the Vineart Malech, who senses Jerzy’s gifts and pulls him out of the fields to be trained in the ways of magic. Slowly, Jerzy learns the history of magic, the powers inherent in different vines and grapes, and the process for turning those grapes into spellwines. The tale of the apprentice wizard is a familiar one, but the worldbuilding and detail of the Vin Lands brings a freshness to Jerzy’s story.
As Jerzy’s training progresses, we learn about an external threat, a coming danger that threatens Vinearts and perhaps all of the Vin Lands. Jerzy and his master must protect themselves against attacks both human and magical, while trying to seek out the source of this growing danger.
Gilman makes some interesting choices with this book. Slavery is used deliberately, as it is believed to be the only way to bring out a potential Vineart’s talents. Like the grape, the young vineart grows strongest under stress. That aspect of the story and worldbuilding is unpleasant, but I trust Gilman is going somewhere with it in future books.
Jerzy’s life as a slave has definitely impacted him. He was sexually abused in the distant past, and that has left its scars. Once again, I’m not sure where she’s going with that part of his character, but it’s a thread I expect to come back in future books.
I enjoyed watching Gilman explore the rules and limitations of her vine-based magic, the possibilities and the implications. That’s something I’m working on myself in my current book, so yes, I was taking notes 🙂
If I had a complaint, it would be that at times the exploration of the idea seemed to push plot into the background, and I tend to be a plot-oriented reader. This is very much the introductory book of the trilogy. But as I enjoyed the idea and the world, that’s not a major complaint.
The ending also reflects the book’s “Part One” status. It’s not a cliffhanger, per se, but this is definitely just the start of the larger story.
For those who have read it, what did you think?
And now for the giveaway! Gilman is well known in certain circles as the meerkat of the SF/F world. She even has an ongoing Practical Meerkat column at Book View Cafe, offering writing advice to authors young and old. Gilman has offered to give a free copy of books one and two (in hardcover!), and a small stuffed meerkat for answering the following question:
Who’s going to be first against the wall when the weremeerkat revolution comes?
Leave your answer in the comments, and I’ll pick a winner at the end of the week. (U.S. and Canadian entrants only for this one, please.)