The concluding chapter in Gilman’s Vineart War trilogy brings the story to a satisfying if sometimes sluggish end, expanding on the author’s unique concept of magic as expressed through winemaking.
After a perilous sea journey in the previous novel (Weight of Stone, 2010), Jerzy, a Vineart who has the power to cultivate magic contained in spellwines, returns to his homeland with three companions who are his allies in the battle against a mysterious enemy. A rogue Vineart from a far-off land is gathering together all five types of magic, a practice forbidden for centuries to prevent Vinearts from gaining too much power. Holed up at Jerzy’s vineyard, the four friends work to formulate a plan to defeat their unknown adversary, while fending off threats from various feudal lords and the Washers, a religious order committed to keeping Vinearts from overstepping their ancient prescribed limits. Gilman presents a complex and often fascinating system of spellcasting, rich in both fantastical and oenophilic detail. That system at times seems more fleshed out than the characters, especially the supporting players who aid Jerzy in his fairly predictable quest. Although the characterization can be sparse (and the writing sometimes dry), it is evenhanded, with the factions opposed to Jerzy’s mission getting a spotlight. The ultimate villain, however, is a one-dimensional megalomaniac, and his final showdown with Jerzy is a little anticlimactic. While that can be frustrating, it’s also indicative of how Gilman subverts expectations, favoring philosophical debates over big action sequences, and even dispatching one major battle completely off the page. The result is a story about how the real victories are won behind the scenes, with cunning and careful planning, rather than by large armies doing as much damage to each other as possible. By mixing familiar fantasy elements with unexpected new approaches, Gilman produces a novel that’s both traditional and forward-thinking.