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REVIEW: The Shattered Vine by Laura Anne Gilman

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: The long building conflict between Jerzy and his allies, and the forces behind the threat to the Lands Vin comes to a head as long laid plans come to fruition


PROS: Character building, world building, and the other strengths Gilman shows in the first two volumes remain in force.
CONS: The ending might be a bit too abrupt with a disconcerting lack of customary denouement. The motivations of the antagonists need work.
VERDICT: An excellent finishing wine to the Vineart War Trilogy

The Shattered Vine is the third and final volume of Laura Anne Gilman’s Vineart War Trilogy, following the nebula nominated Flesh and Fire and Weight of Stone, both previously reviewed in this space.

It’s difficult, as always, to talk about an individual book without giving away spoilers for the entire series, but The Shattered Vine and The Vineart War Trilogy are well worth the risks, and the author’s work is very much worth your attention.

The final book of the series picks up from the second, Weight of Stone. The mysterious external threat to the Lands Vin has slowly been revealed, both to the reader and to Jerzy and his companions. Now, the full nature of the threat, its origin, motivations and plans come to light. But can even the burgeonin powers of Jerzy, and the increasing skills and connections he, Ao, Mahault and Kainam make be enough to stop the threat before its too late? Such are the matters of this final volume.

The author keeps to her style and strengths even as things ramp up to the climatic conflicts between the two sides of the chess board. What this means is you will not get a lovingly crafted eighty page battle, and in fact, a lot of such actions are kept off screen. Gilman’s focus continues to be on the characters and how the results of the conflict weigh upon the faces of her creations.

Perhaps it is only a minor failing once the final confrontation is done, the novel does not linger on in the aftermath or denouement but rather comes to a close. Again, the author is far more interested (and far more capable of showing) how events, actions and decisions change the growth of the characters up the trellis of their personal narrative. Like a fine wine, Gilman’s touch at characterization and growth is often extremely subtle and rewards an attentive reader.

The Shattered Vine continues to grow and develop the intriguing magic system based on wine. Even if the work doesn’t quite go to the lengths of Brandon Sanderson in sorting out every last detail of the Vineart War’s magic system of Oenolurgy (my neologism, not hers), we get a good picture of just what magic was like before the shattering, what it’s like now, and what it can and can’t do. Gilman admits that the idea for the series came out of a conversation with her agent about “A food or wine based fantasy”, and she lives up to the premise.

Setting and character are definitely the strongest things in the Lands Vin trilogy, and language coming in for a close bronze.

So many others, more experienced, more powerful, had failed and died. What arrogance–what foolishness–to think that he could make a difference.

And yet, they had. The four of them had stopped Ximen’s attack in Irfan, denied him access to the unblooded grapes he so clearly desired. They had kept one pace ahead of the Washers, had stayed alive despite sea-serpent attacks, and had made it back here …to do what?

“I could have stayed in my father’s house,” Mahl said, and her tone was quiet, as if she were speaking to herself, and the others overhearing by chance. “I could have stayed, and told myself I had no choice. But everything we do is a choice.”

Something in Jerzy rebelled at that. He had been a slave, taken as a child for the flicker of magic within him, sold to Malech for that flicker. He had no choice, had never had a choice in his entire life…and yet, Mahault was right. Everything had always been a choice.

He chose to live rather than die. He chose to learn rather than fail. He chose to run rather than be punished unfairly by the Washers. He chose to kill, that others might live. He chose to travel with these companions, rather than standing alone. And, now, he had to choose again.

A Vineart had no control over when the fruit was ripe. But his choice of when to harvest made all the difference.

Jerzy lifted his head, and his voice, when he spoke, was firm. “The first thing we need to do is get home.”

However, having seen the entirety of the series, I am not so sure about the overall plot, especially the motivations and the plots of the antagonists. Once who and what they are is made absolutely clear, their goals seem somewhat inexplicable if not irrational. I’m not entirely convinced, and skating on the edge of spoiler territory here, that the antagonist is focusing on the right target, or even the target they would naturally strike at or strike at first.

The personal plot of the protagonists, especially Jerzy, are extremely well done. The antagonists, on the other hand, in my opinion, needed more work.

Still, these negatives are strongly outweighed by the positives and now that I’ve seen the entirety of the trilogy, I do not hesitate in commending the series to fantasy readers. And as always, there is no way you can start the series here. Just don’t. Go and try Flesh and Fire first and see if the vintage of the lands Vin is to your liking. I promise that if it is, then the subsequent volumes will likely be to your liking also.

And although The Vineart War trilogy is complete, it appears that the author’s brain is not yet done with this intriguing universe, since she has a kickstarter for a novella that tells the story of the mythical Bradhai, who was mentioned throughout the series and whose story demanded be told. As I was finishing this volume, I, too, decided that I wanted another sip from this rich world, and have pledged my financial support to see to its publication. I suspect that any reader who has sampled the vintages of the Vineart trilogy will very well feel the same as I do.

About Paul Weimer (366 Articles)
Not really a Prince of Amber, but rather an ex-pat New Yorker that has found himself living in Minnesota, Paul Weimer has been reading SF and Fantasy for over 30 years and exploring the world of roleplaying games for over 25 years. Almost as long as he has been reading and watching movies, he has enjoyed telling people what he has thought of them. In addition to SF Signal, he can be found at his own blog, Blog Jvstin Style, Skiffy and Fanty, SFF Audio, Twitter, and many other places on the Internet!
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