Title: "Flesh and Fire"
Author: Laura Anne Gilman
Genre: Epic Fantasy
Standalone/Series: First novel in the "Vineart War" series
Publisher: Pocket Books
My copy came courtesy of Pocket Books and I should have posted my review a week or so ago to be in synchrony with the promotional book tour. To think that I wanted to drop this as pick from Pocket, because I felt overworked. It seems surreal, now that I have read this novel and consider not reading it a great intellectual robbery.
Fourteen centuries ago, all power was held by the prince-mages, who alone could craft the spell-wines. But the people revolted against harsh rule, and were saved by a demigod called Sin-Washer, who broke the First Vine, shattering the hold of the prince-mages.
In 1378 ASW, princes still rule, but Vinearts now make spellwines, less powerful than in days of old. Jerzy, a young slave, has just begun his studies to become a Vineart when his master uncovers the first stirrings of a plot to finish the work Sin-Washer began, and shatter the remains of the Vine forever. Only his master believes the magnitude and danger of this plot. And only Jerzy has the ability to stop it…before there are no more Vinearts left at all.
Cover art and book blurb have hinted that this will be the beginning of yet another medieval fantasy series, which will explore yet again the coming of age theme. What can be so different from all the other books under the same lid? Oh, everything. From the magic system, which has cemented my conviction that fantasy knows no bounds, to the unorthodox handling of the coming of age trope this novel is as refined as any French vintage year. I couldn’t find a fault anywhere within this story and I usually refrain from being too emotional about a book, but I can’t help myself with “Flesh and Fire”.
This idea could have flopped in so many aspects, if it was handled by an emerging author, so I am thankful for Gilman for pursuing it after being so successful with her urban fantasy series. With that out of the system, let’s look at the characters. For starters the cast is abundant and I can safely say that each human being that appears on the pages at any given time is a living, breathing person. This is rare. This is the magic. Even when nothing of interest happened the figures entertained me with their personalities.
And Gilman has brought to life intelligent and prone to get into verbal battles characters. Conversation, this back and forth connection between Master Malech and his student and formal slave Jerzy, is the primal tool for setting the rules of the world, the magic and the mythology. Malech is a strict, fair and generous teacher and Jerzy is a cautious, willing to learn and taking responsibility student, who wants to excel and prove his master right by picking him as a student. Then the reader is offered the color that is the secondary cast from the respect inducing housekeeper Detta, Jerzy’s fighting teacher Cai, the odd and eccentric Vineart Giordan, the honorable mistress Mahault, the sly mouthed trader Ao and many more.
The characters set in this exotic and yet familiar world embark on a journey, which starts as a relaxed stroll on a cobbled path amidst a garden and then winds, widens, hardens and crosses streets and roads until the reader finds that from a rather placid beginning his breath is stolen by the suspense at the near end. For the sake of experiencing this story I will not mention any concrete details, but I just enjoyed how the level of difficulty for these people went up by a notch with the transition from each part. In part one, “Slave” the reader is introduced to world and cast. Horizons are restricted solely to the Malech House. Part two, “Student” broadens the borders, shows what happens outside, continues supplying new information about the magic of this land. Rumors about bad omens are just a whisper. Part three “Spy”, has the reader know that something is wrong and Jerzy is wading into dangerous waters with unwritten rules with an ending, which is by no means a cliff hanger, but has made the reader physically crave the next installment.
There are a few books that truly sweep me off my feet. There are even fewer that re-spark the flame and makes me remember, why I want to be a writer. And there is tiny percentage that has truly changed my inner world completely. “Flesh and Fire” did this for me. It’s individual for everybody, but I highly doubt anybody not liking this novel.