Sunday, December 13, 2009

Flesh and Fire (Vineart War, Book 1) by Laura Anne Gilman (3/5 stars)

This is the first book in the "Vineart War Trilogy" by Laura Anne Gilman. I received this book as an Advanced Reading Copy through the Amazon Vine program. I have never read anything from Gilman before, although I have wanted to read her Retrievers series. I have mixed feelings about this book. Gilman created a couple great characters, a very unique and interesting magic system, and a complex world. Unfortunately the plot lags and the book doesn't resolve any story as much as just set things up.

Jerzy is a slave who ends up becoming an Apprentice to the Master Vineart Malech. Malech has noticed strange happenings in the different Vinearts properties, but can't get too involved because of the Vinearts vow to stay out of power struggles. In an attempt to get deeper insight into the problems surrounding him Malech apprentices Jerzy to another Vineart, something completely against tradition. Jerzy is supposed to discover how deeply the trouble has spread.

There were some really good things about this book. I loved the unique magic system; using Wine as a magic source is interesting. Gilman has created a world with a deep history and a complex interaction between Vinearts and political figures. The main characters of Malech and Jerzy are fairly well done; although they are not completely engaging, they are interesting characters with depth. The other characters in the book are given minimal page space and are not developed all that well. Although given how some of the characters come together at the end of the book, I think that the next book could be very engaging and Jerzy's travel companions could end up being wonderful characters to read about. I also enjoyed Gilman's writing style; she does a good job describing things in a way that creates great imagery without getting overly wordy.

My main problem with this book is the pacing and the plot. Much of the beginning of the book is spent with Jerzy learning Vineart crafts. This is interesting for a while, but gets drawn out too long. There are little hints of bad things going on around Jerzy but he is always removed from them. The point of view switches frequently between Jerzy and Malech; this never really got confusing but it was odd to have viewpoints switched mid-chapter. The story doesn't actually get interesting until the last third of the book where Jerzy goes to apprentice with a different Vineart.

I think it is fairly common for the first book in a fantasy trilogy to be mostly about training the hero, getting the world and magic system set up, etc. The problem in this case is that I am guessing that most of Gilman's Retriever series fans are more interested in the pace of an urban fantasy where everything is quickly set up and things actually happen. That is not the case in this book, things are very deliberately approached to the point that I didn't have a real sense of urgency for the story until I was almost to the end of the book. The book also doesn't wrap anything up, because there is no plot to wrap up.

My recommendation would be to wait until the second book is released and see how that one does You will probably want to read them one after the other anyway since this book just starts the story. Overall it is an interesting fantasy world, with decent characters, if the plot picks up in the second book this could be a very good series. Based on this book alone, it is just okay.

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