Once a year my reading group schedules a topic we call either Reading Surprise or Zen Reading. The idea is to pick up a book and start reading, without having read the description on the back cover (or website). If you’re lucky, what you find in the pages of the book is a nice surprise.
I tried and eliminated half a dozen books before I found The Vine Witch through Amazon’s Kindle First program for Prime members. The cover and title immediately caught my eye, so I grabbed a copy. All I knew about it was that Amazon had characterized it as Fantasy. To my delight, it turned out to be romantic fantasy.
The Vine Witch
by Luanne G. Smith
47 North, 2019
In Smith’s fantasy version of early 20th c. France, all vineyards have vine witches, who use their skills to create a better vintage.
The book starts with the protagonist, Elena, trapped by a curse in a frog’s body. Every time the frog sheds it’s skin, she swallows the skin. She doesn’t remember much about being a human, but she knows the frog’s skin is poisonous. This time the poison hits critical mass and the curse is broken.
She returns home, planning to exact vengeance on her former fiance whom she believes ordered the curse on her. But everything has changed. Her mentor, an older woman, has sold the vineyard to an outsider, a young lawyer from Paris who wants to be a great vintner. Jean-Paul is a believer in law and science, so she has to hide her witchy abilities.
She’s also dismayed by the shape the vineyards are in. Someone has clearly cursed them as well. She goes about undoing the damage, trying to stay off Jean-Paul’s radar.
Her former fiance has since married a blond bier hexe from the northern lands (Germany, presumably) and has prospered mightily, buying up many of the local wineries when their grapes start to sour. Elena knows he is behind the damage to the Chateau Renard vineyard, as well.
Of course, nothing goes as planned, and Elena ends up accused of murder. Jean-Paul who has fallen in love with her tries to free her, only to end up in danger to himself.
This book was a lovely surprise. I found the world-building intriguing and the characters engaging, esp. Yvette, Elena’s felonious but charming partner in crime. (We don’t meet her until well into the book.) The writing is good, and there was the nice bonus of a romance subplot between Elena and Jean-Paul. Recommended for lovers or fantasy or paranormal romance.
Happy Thanksgiving to all!
As always, click on the graphic below for more great reviews in Barrie Summy’s Book Review Club.