Title: Flesh and Fire
Author: Laura Anne Gilman
Release Date: September 28, 2010
Publisher: Pocket Books
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Jerzy is a slave owned by a Vineart, one of the rare and mystical crafters of spellwine. When the Vineart, Malech, realizes that Jerzy has some of the abilities of a Vineart, he adopts the young slave as his pupil and begins to teach him the ways of wine. But trouble is brewing; someone is targeting Vinearts, and it’s up to Malech and Jerzy to discover who is trying to destroy their way of life and why.
Flesh and Fire is the first book in the The Vineart War trilogy, and it provides a solid foundation for the series. Readers are introduced to a world that revolves around wine, where the Vinearts are the most powerful people in the realm, the holders of all the magic, but are forbidden from occupying ruling positions. Long ago, the princes were the ones with the power to make spellwine, and the gods took it away from them because of their selfishness and distributed the magic among the ordinary folk, creating Vinearts. It’s a great world that Gilman has built, and she really fleshes it out well. Fans of intricate world building will love this aspect of the book.
Jerzy is a slave at the beginning of the novel, but he becomes so much more by the end of Flesh and Fire. I took issue with slavery in the novel and it gave me a distaste for Malech, that is, until I learned that the dark life as a slave is the only way the Vineart abilities rise to the surface in a person. Every Vineart starts life as a slave. While it didn’t completely quiet my qualms, I appreciated this depth and the complexities it introduced into the book. The entire novel exhibits this nuance, and it makes it a thought provoking read.
The book focuses on Jerzy’s coming of age, on his transformation from slave to Vineart. Jerzy must wear many different hats in this novel, conform his abilities to the situations he finds himself in, and he becomes quite adept at it. At the same time, I appreciated that he recognized that he had a lot to learn and was willing to accept help from others. This lack of hubris was refreshing in a teenage protagonist. It’s really gratifying to watch him change and grow as the novel progresses; he is the same person, yet completely different, when Flesh and Fire ends, and I loved how well-crafted he was.
Flesh and Fire actually consists of two storylines – the education of Jerzy and the larger story of what is happening to the world that Jerzy and Malech live in. Gilman always reminds the reader that there is something bigger going on, even when focusing on Jerzy. She handles the two storylines well, switching back and forth as necessary to flesh out the overarching plot. I will admit there were times I was confused when the novel jumped to characters I’d never met, but I quickly adjusted to the change. As the book progresses, the two storylines meld and Jerzy becomes an important figure in trying to figure out what is really happening.
I initially wanted to read Flesh and Fire because it is a fantasy novel centered around wine, and I thought it sounded like fun. What I got was so much more than that, though. Gilman is a talented author, and I was so pleased at how well she built the world that Jerzy lives in. I highly recommend this series, especially to those who are interested in trying out fantasy novels but are daunted by the genre. This is an accessible, engaging read, and the entire trilogy has been released, so you can read thebooks at your leisure. I certainly can’t wait to pick up the next book in the series.