A young witch emerges from a curse to find her world upended in this gripping fantasy of betrayal, vengeance, and self-discovery set in turn-of-the-century France.
“Wine, after all, was a living, breathing thing. Each wine its own entity, each vintage as unique as the heart and mind of the witch who crafted it.”
This review contains minor spoilers from the beginning of the book
The Vine Witch is a unique story about utilizing magic in a way I’d never seen done before, managing vineyards. In Luanne G. Smith’s debut novel, a witch who was cursed for seven years as a frog manages to break out of the curse and turn back into a human. When she returns home to her vineyard, she finds it under new ownership. Now she must try to restore her vineyard to former glory while seeking revenge on the one who cursed her. I acquired this book through Amazon’s First Reads program in September 2019. Seeing a highly rated fantasy book this month made me very eager to pick it up.
This book excelled in its unique premise and setting, while having enjoyable enough characters. Having French vineyards at the turn-of-the-century relying on magic for their harvest felt like a fresh take on magic, because of course you would use magic in every aspect of life including making the best wine possible! The book’s biggest issue that sort of affects every aspect of this book is its pacing. The Vine Witch is only about 260 pages, which is a pretty quick read for a fantasy novel. The brevity of this book led to, in my opinion, certain aspects of the book feeling underdeveloped. I really believe if this book had been 300 or 400 pages, it would’ve been much better off. That being said, it’s time to go into the nitty gritty.
One of my favorite parts of The Vine Witch is Smith’s writing style. Her description of the magic and wine in her world is perfect in my opinion, and really helps bring it to life. My only wish is that she extended the way she writes about magic and wine into other aspects of the story. I often found myself lacking in being able to paint the setting in my head, firstly because I lack experience with French vineyards (not really Smith’s fault), but also because Smith doesn’t often describe the surroundings the same way she’ll describe characters or magic… or wine. While it’s still easy to follow what’s going on, I feel like some details of the setting would’ve really helped in some scenes.
As I stated previously, this book is missing a lot of detail about the environment and setting in which the characters are in. However, that is just one aspect of world building, and most of the rest of the world building was great! It was fun to see how witches and magic worked within the world of The Vine Witch. We got a little bit of background on witches and magic in the past. The magic system felt natural for the world it was in, relying on ingredients for potions and spells, as well as other abilities that are unique to certain types of witches. Different types of witches excelling in different types of magic was also interesting, as well as having magic fully integrated into the normal law system within the world.
My one warning for potential readers is that most of the world building is at the beginning and towards the end of the book, with a heavy dump in one of the final few chapters. This being the first book in a series, I’m definitely interested to see how the world continues to expand
Characters were good. I feel like some of them needed more interactions to get to where they developed.
The main two characters, Elena and Jean-Paul, were very well fleshed out. I was always interested in seeing what they would do, or hearing about their past. With Elena having been cursed for 7 years, it makes sense that she would want revenge. She also deeply cares for her vineyard and producing good wine. This caring sentiment is also shared by Jean-Paul, a former lawyer who desires to break away from the monotony of office life and follow his dreams of becoming a well-respected vigneron without the help of magic. He buys Elena’s old vineyard from the owner while Elena is cursed. This leads Elena to distrust Jean-Paul, which in-turn leads to some friction and eventual romance as they discover they both share the same goal.
Side characters, on the other hand, I wish we’d gotten more from. The man who Elena believes poisoned her, who was also her former lover, has an interesting development in the plot. However we only see him explored briefly. Other witches that are introduced later in the book spend only a few scenes with Elena. After that they are perfect friends with her, willing to risk their lives for her even. The woman who raised Elena whom she calls “Grandmother” probably gets the most development of any of the side characters. Even then she’s just in the background for most of the story while it focuses on the romance between Elena and Jean-Paul.
I really wanted to enjoy this plot, and for parts of it I really did. While Elena tries to restore her vineyard and works towards killing the one who cursed her, the plot is great. She has to work to hide her magic from Jean-Paul while crafting a poison to kill the person who had her cursed. About halfway through the book, though, many many many developments happen in such a short amount of time. It was paced so quickly and felt almost like I was rushing to get to the end of the story.
This led to an ending that seemed both predictable, yet seemingly came out of nowhere. Characters would appear, then disappear, all in a matter of a few pages. The reveals at the end definitely could have used more build up since I left it confused. It felt like it was too convenient and its only purpose was to get everything possible wrapped up within this first book. If we had gotten more scenes and interactions with these characters, I probably would feel much better about the ending.
The Vine Witch was a really fun read, but it just felt too short and rushed for me. I would’ve loved to just had this story expanded an extra 100 pages or so, giving more detail to the world and life to the characters. Still, I am hopeful with the next book in this series. I plan to give it a read just to follow up with Elena and Jean-Paul. If you’re looking for a magic system that is interestingly integrated into society, try this book out! I also did learn quite a bit about wine and winemaking haha.