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Flesh and Fire: Book One of the Vineart Wars
Laura Anne Gilman
Narrated by Anne Flosnik, unabridged
Tantor Media, 15 hours

Flesh and Fire: Book One of the Vineart Wars
Laura Anne Gilman
Laura Anne Gilman made her first professional fiction sale in 1994 to Amazing Stories. Since then, she has sold more than 20 short stories, written three non-fiction books for teenagers, and edited two anthologies. Shen also runs d.y.m.k. publications, an editorial company. Before that, she spent 15 years working in the trade publishing industry as an editor for Berkley Publishing Group and New American Library.

Laura Anne Gilman Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Bring It On
SF Site Review: Staying Dead

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Amy Timco

In Flesh And Fire: Book One of The Vineart War, Laura Anne Gilman creates a fantasy story rich in characters and culture. Jerzy, a slave in the vineyards of a Master Vineart, finds himself suddenly taken as Master Malech's apprentice in the secrets arts of spellwine. In the Vin Lands, power is divided among three classes: the Vinearts, who make the spellwines but who are forbidden to hold political power; the lords, who purchase and use the spellwines to hold their lands; and the Washers, the religious institution that guards Sin-Washer's legacy and bears a definite resemblance to the Roman Catholic church. Usually an apprentice's training takes years of discipline, but Jerzy is forced to his limits early, as there are bigger events stirring in the world outside. Someone is sabotaging the scattered vineyards and kingdoms of the Vin Lands, and doing it with a magic that even the greatest Master Vineart has never seen.

I was fascinated by the religious mythology that details how the magic of grape and vine was established. There are echoes of Christian doctrines in the legend -- not least in the deity's title, Sin-Washer. And yet there are influences from Greek mythology as well, in the multiplicity of deities and how they relate to mankind. Everyone in the story appears to believe wholeheartedly in the gods and the legend of Sin-Washer, though their interpretations of his legacy vary. Gilman has given herself a good structure on which to build the characters' beliefs and motivations in future books.

Gilman's strong world-building skills are in full evidence in the mythology and cultures she depicts. She renders this complex society, with all its accepted traditions and practices, both believable and interesting. Sometimes it reminded me a little of Ursula K. Le Guin's Earthsea books, though Gilman's prose is not so elegant. There were a few phrases here and there that seemed out of place; for example, a highborn princess, speaking of sweet wine, states, "I am not a fan." It was just very modern and jarring. I also spotted a dangling modifier and some other small issues that could have been easily pruned away. They aren't big problems in themselves, but they did bother me occasionally.

I found the reader, Anne Flosnik, to be an acquired taste that I never fully acquired. She has a trick of lingering on the last syllable of a word at the end of a sentence or paragraph, which is certainly effective dramatically but that I found somewhat overdone. It works very well in the "action" scenes, but less so in the general narrative. However, I can understand how many listeners would enjoy her interpretation, and she has even won an award or two for her narrative work. I would advise anyone new to her reading to listen to some samples first (there are some clips of Flosnik's reading on Tantor Media's web site). This audiobook, published by Tantor Media in 2009, is unabridged and runs 15 hours.

Despite its small flaws and my less-than-glowing opinion of Flosnik's reading, I enjoyed this story quite a bit. It's been awhile since an author has really grabbed my attention with an original and compelling fantasy world as Gilman has done with Flesh and Fire. I will be looking for the rest of the series as it is published, and recommend it to fantasy fans looking for something a little different.

Copyright © 2010 Amy Timco

Amy Timco is a voracious reader, avid reviewer, incorrigible booksale bum, and happy wife.  In addition to these absorbing pursuits, she also manages to be a freelance editor. (Yes, she is the grammar snob about whom your mother warned you!) You may visit her website at

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