From the Book Jacket:Flesh and Fire is the first book in a new fantasy series from Laura Anne Gilman called the Vineart War. The tale is both a coming of age story and a quest. We view many of the events through the eyes of the teenage field slave Jerzy. Sensing his magical potential, his Master changes the course of Jerzy's life by making him his apprentice to become a Vineart - a maker of the specialized magical wines. As Jerzy is lessoned, we learn both the secrets, craft and nature of the making of spellwines and the larger role Vinearts and the magic play in the outside world - the world of power, politics and religion.
Once, all power in the Vin Lands was held by the prince-mages, who alone could craft spellwines, and selfishly used them to increase their own wealth and influence. But their abuse of power caused a demigod to break the Vine, shattering the power of the mages. Now, fourteen centuries later, it is the humble Vinearts who hold the secret of crafting spells from wines, the source of magic, and they are prohibited from holding power.
But now rumors come of a new darkness rising in the vineyards. Strange, terrifying creatures, sudden plagues, and mysterious disappearances threaten the land. Only one Vineart senses the danger, and he has only one weapon to use against it: a young slave. His name is Jerzy, and his origins are unknown, even to him. Yet his uncanny sense of the Vinearts' craft offers a hint of greater magics within -- magics that his Master, the Vineart Malech, must cultivate and grow. But time is running out. If Malech cannot teach his new apprentice the secrets of the spellwines, and if Jerzy cannot master his own untapped powers, the Vin Lands shall surely be destroyed.
Flesh and Fire takes place during a crucial time in the Vin Lands. Something unknown is stirring that is upsetting long-held balances. Jerzy's Master becomes involved, investigating and probing, despite traditions that prohibit Vineart involvement in affairs of politics and power. Through alternate points of view, we learn that indeed sinister occurences are at play throughout the lands building suspense and laying the foundation for the greater mystery.
Jerzy is a likeable character as is Master Malech and Jerzy's companions once they are introduced. There is a tentativeness and a strength to Jerzy than combined makes him quite endearing. At the heart of the book is the concept of a magic system based on wines, the varieties of both the grapes and nature of the Vineart's skills determing the nature of the magic and its use; the fact that non-magical people can use the wine for specific purposes. There is considerable loving detail and carefully thought out magical mythos layed out over the course of the novel. Depending on what you like to take away from a book this may or may not be a deciding factor in your enjoyment of the story.
Flesh and Fire like many first books in a trilogy spends much of its time establishing the world, the essential plotting conflicts and introduces the key players. By the conluding scenes, the story has built considerable momentum; the band of intrepid companions has formed, intent on saving the Vin Lands and everyone's fate is placed in jeopardy. Needless to say I wanted the story to continue immediately because it was obvious we were just reaching the really good part. Now we will have to wait for the 2010 vintage to be decanted. Readers of original and intricate world-building and magic systems should enjoy Flesh and Fire. I did and very much look forward to the next book in the trilogy around the same time next year.
Here's Laura talking about Flesh and Fire.
AUTHOR AND BOOK SHOWCASE
Read the first three chapters.
Simon and Schuster/Pocket Books
Published: October 13, 2009
ISBN #: 9781439101414
The Vineart War Trilogy:
Spin-off of Retrievers series.