Genre(s): Fantasy, Historical Fantasy
Series: Vine Witch #1
Release date: October 1st, 2019
/r/Fantasy Bingo Squares: Published 2019
“A page in the spell book rippled softly, as if disturbed by a breeze. “Yes?” she asked, and the words “strand of wolf’s mane” shimmered on the page in iridescent green ink. “Ah, of course. Clever book. You found it.”
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The Vine Witch is steeped in the soil of the Chanceaux Valley, an area made famous for its wine. It seeks to transport you and all of your senses such that you feel the grapes, the vines, smell the rich scent of soil, and the fragrance of the aging barrels tucked away in the ancient wine cellars. The novel takes place during the turn of the century just as the automobile & airplanes have become established into public knowledge, giving the novel a wonderful sense of the old coming into first contact with the new more modern ways of doing things. Wine making acts as a bridge between the two – it’s a tradition that spans generations, even as it finds itself in a new, more modern era.
The titular vine witches are an open secret in the valley, and they are coveted by vineyards large and small. Elena, once a powerful vine witch, was cursed to live as a toad for seven years after she broke her marriage engagement. Now that her curse has broken, she has made her way back to the vineyard she called come – Chateau Renard… only to find that not only was her curse lengthy, but that it has also taken a toll on her magic. If that weren’t a heavy enough price on its own, she also discovers that her aging mentor, Grand-Mere, has sold Chateau Renard to a city man after she herself lost her touch for magic. While the buyer, Jean-Paul, is kind enough to allow Elena to continue living on the chateau, Elena must convince him she’s valuable enough for a permanent position – all without revealing her magic to the superstitious urbanite.
‘They also succumbed to early deaths. The heart had a tendency to harden off after being forced to survive inside a life two sizes too small, deprived of the oxygen of dreams.’
Jean-Paul is determined to rebuild Chateau Renard to its former glory and to produce more of the wine he so fondly recalls from his youth. He is a lawyer by trade, armed with education and science; he has little patience for rural superstition and so-called folk magic. The similarities between his approach and Elena’s towards wine marking are often strikingly similar, given their opposing attitudes towards magic. Being a vine witch requires a clear mind for careful calculation and is heavily rooted in the scientific method. While their means may differ, their methodological approaches towards the chateau run in parallel. The comparison and contrast within each point of view is enjoyable as a reader, although the narration is often too distant to feel truly connected to the events at hand. There are moments of brilliance where the reader is fully submerged in the story, yet these are the exception rather than the rule.
“But, of course, now we know how these small wonders occur—miracles in my humble estimation—because men can look through a microscope and see them, track them, but for all the centuries before that, the mysterious process must have seemed like—” “Magic.” And he’d begun to see.
The Vine Witch takes place during the turn of the century just as the automobile & airplanes have become established into public knowledge, giving the novel a wonderful sense of the old coming into first contact with the new more modern ways of doing things.
While I happily would have taken a slice of life approach to the setting, the author creates an additional layer of intrigue by combining these elements with a murder mystery. Although this is for the most part easy for the reader to track and understand, Luanne G. Smith manages to pull off a gut-punching twist at the end. It was fresh and enjoyable in the moment, and has only become moreso upon further reflection. With a fascinating cast of characters and this wonderful dash of mystery, The Vine Witch is a book I would highly recommend to anyone seeking a fun, light read.
Have you read this book? What did you think? Do you have any questions about it?
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