The Vine Witch, by Luanne G. Smith—Growing the Grapes of Wrath
The Vine Witch is exactly the kind of novel that we were hoping to encounter during our
2021 fantasy phase. It has a unique, developed magic and a quaint, romanticized setting.
Smith’s trilogy is set in rural France (perhaps near Lozere?) in the French wine country (perhaps similar to Tuscany?). The vineyards are a critical part of the plot environment and the magical setting.
Although this book claims to be a fantasy, I think I would actually classify it as a romance novel in a fantasy setting. This doesn’t detract from the book, however.
Read on to find out our recommendation!
The Vine Witch Series
There are three books in this series. After the first book:
The Vine Witch Characters and Background
The titular character of this book is named Elena, and her purpose and passion in life is to grow the best wine grapes in the French countryside. As a vine witch, she uses her magic to accomplish that goal.
France has a handful of other witches: curse witches, beer witches, poison witches. The country even has a witch government agency that polices witches and keeps magical order in the land.
Elena starts off this book with a prejudice against men, presumably because she believes her ex-fiance cursed her and turned her into a toad. Her sexism just gives her room for character development, though.
Her feelings toward men are quickly turned around by the handsome lawyer from a rich family (ugh cliche) who bought her vineyards while she was a toad. As the first named male character (Jean-Paul), it’s immediately obvious that she will fall in love with him and get her magic back from their first kiss (ugh cliche).
Jean-Paul and his family are the only non-magical characters in this book (non-magical characters are confusingly called mortals). Despite being surrounded by witches at all times, JP has trouble believing in magic. As you might expect, true love turns him around on that particular point.
The Evocative Imagery
Writers are often told to ‘engage all of the senses’ when writing scenes. Most of the books that I read rely on visual imagery; a few authors can create audible imagery as well. I always imagined that the three remaining senses were much more difficult than these two.
While the resident author of this site always includes a food scene in his books, I was struck by how well Smith engages the sense of smell in several scenes.
Wine-making is a process that conjures up strong scent memories, I’m sure. While reading The Vine Witch, I could smell the earthy, fertile soil of the vineyards and the bouquet of the wines. Nearly every scene setting had an aroma background, which made the book so much more real in my imagination.
I really loved the book up until this point. But when we got to the climax and resolution, the book totally fell apart.
First, the main villain starts monologuing. And the monologue is extensive. If it were an intentional strategy by the heroine to get her allies in position, I would have forgiven it. But no, the villain just tells her entire backstory, which had no relevance to the rest of the plot at all, and accomplishes nothing.
Second, the heroine survives the encounter through a deus ex machina that had already been used earlier in the book. She doesn’t demonstrate any cleverness, any strength, or any character quality during the climax of the story. Just poof, and she wins.
Then, as the author wraps up the resolution, it feels like she is cramming puzzle pieces where they don’t belong. They aren’t plot twists; they are unnecessary role-reversals.
Recommendation: 3.5/5 Stars
Since this book is the start of a trilogy, I have high hopes for the remaining books. Sure, the ending of this book was a little weak, but the world-building was strong, and the characters showed potential.
I think that this book will particularly appeal to fantasy readers who love their wine, and love French culture. The French words that are peppered throughout the book give it an added exoticism, and the wine is described so well that the reader can nearly taste it.
Have you read the Vine Witch series? Or do you have any similar books to recommend? Leave a comment below, and of course stay tuned for updates about Sparrow’s upcoming fantasy adventure!