fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsfantasy book reviews Laura Anne Gilman The Vineart War 2. Weight of StoneWeight of Stone: by Laura Anne Gilman

For two thousands years, the Lands Vin have enjoyed peace and prosperity thanks to Sin Washer’s strict separation of magic and politics, but it seems that someone’s been tasting forbidden fruits. When Master Vineart Malech and his student Jerzy set out to solve this nebulous threat to the peace, they soon become caught up in the forbidden currents of politics.

Laura Anne Gilman’s Weight of Stone, the second novel in The Vineart War, opens with Vineart Jerzy on the run from the Washers. Jerzy has been wrongly declared apostate for his actions in Gilman’s previous novel, the Nebula Award-nominated Flesh and Fire. At sea with his friends, the trader Ao and the noblewoman Mahault, Jerzy is tracking down a mysterious taint, one that has polluted the vina magica. Before he can trace the taint to its source, Jerzy is called home to his master, only to discover that his home is no longer safe.

The world of the Lands Vin is truly wonderful, particularly its magic system. There is magic in winemaking, and Gilman knows it. Instead of wizards, Gilman has created “Vinearts,” men that tend to vines and wines. Few authors bend the language in service of their fantastic worlds with as much dedication as Gilman, and her wordplay walks a fine line between the refreshing and the corny. For example, Vinehearts “incant” spellwines, and drinkers “decant” them in order to perform magic. There’s a lot of magic stored in the wine cellar, though it can have strange effects on those Vinearts who have drunk too much. Love it or leave it.

For two thousand years, Sin Washer’s separation of magic and state has been honored in the Lands Vin. It’s a dynamic that Gilman uses to impressive effect, particularly when she brings together characters that represent the political, the religious, and the magical. Any deviation from this tradition threatens to disrupt the peace and prosperity of the Lands Vin. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what is happening, but who is responsible?

The plot of Weight of Stone is driven by this mystery. However, Gilman’s reliance on this nebulous threat comes at the cost of a strong antagonist who can drive her plot forward. At one point in the novel, Jerzy comes across a set of vines that aren’t producing fruit. It turns out that they need to be stressed, a prescription that might also benefit the plot of Weight of Stone. Although the Lands Vin is an interesting world to visit, Jerzy’s quest could use a little more action.

Still, Gilman has set up some interesting conflicts, and she offers her audience a variety of portals through which to explore the Lands Vin. Some readers may choose to read Weight of Stone allegorically, focusing on the conflicts that have arisen from the separation of church and state. The novel can also be approached as a hero’s tale, following Jerzy’s journey and the taint of the vina magica. Other readers will choose to curl up with a favorite vintage and enjoy this world where no art stands above that of winemaking.

In The Vineart War, Gilman has created an elegant fantasy that will please mature readers. Gilman’s talent for world building is impressive and she has bent all of her resources as a writer to nurturing the Lands Vin in Weight of Stone. Now it’s time to put her fruits under stress.

The Vineart War — (2009-2011) Publisher: Fourteen centuries ago, all power was held by the prince-mages, who alone could craft the spell-wines. But the people revolted against harsh rule, and were saved by a demigod called Sin-Washer, who broke the First Vine, shattering the hold of the prince-mages. In 1378 ASW, princes still rule, but Vinearts now make spellwines, less powerful than in days of old. Jerzy, a young slave, has just begun his studies to become a Vineart when his master uncovers the first stirrings of a plot to finish the work Sin-Washer began, and shatter the remains of the Vine forever. Only his master believes the magnitude and danger of this plot. And only Jerzy has the ability to stop it… before there are no more Vinearts left at all.

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  • Ryan Skardal

    RYAN SKARDAL, on our staff from September 2010 to November 2018, is an English teacher who reads widely but always makes time for SFF.

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