Cover designed by Micaela Alcaino
A fantasy set in turn-of-the-century French countryside full of sorcery, romance and wine? I couldn’t wait to dive in to this debut novel from Luanne G. Smith.
Elena Boureanu is a vine witch. Not familiar? Vine witches are responsible for curating the most delectable vintages of the Chanceaux Valley, in a fantasy version of rural France. Elena is responsible for Chateau Renard, well known for producing some of the best wine in the Valley. Elena, and the vine witches that have come before her, use their powers to harness the perfect weather, moon phase, and terroir. Paired with their creative tastes they hope to blend the perfect bottle.
Our story opens with Elena cursed, stuck in the body of a toad surviving off slugs, flies and having almost no memory of who she was, and much less who would inflict such a terrible sentence on her. After all, she was so engrossed in creating the world’s best wine, she rarely paid attention to anything but her work.
During the seven years Elena has been missing, Chateau Renard has been sold to Jean-Paul Martel, a city dweller with no knowledge of spells or witches. Instead, he is focused on science and has little use for the folklore and traditions of the Valley. To help with the daily operations of the Chateau, he allowed the previous proprietor, Ariella Gardin, to stay on. As much as she tries to influence him to be more open to the “old ways,” he dismisses her claims as nonsense.
Finally, Elena is able to break the curse return home to her beloved vineyard. She is greeted by Ariella (her Grand Mere), and discovers the truth about the sale of the only home she’s ever known. What’s more, she is able to see a terrible hex has been placed over the entire vineyard. With Jean-Paul’s aversion to magic, Elena must pretend to be someone she’s not, while trying desperately trying to fix things behind his back.
Complications continue to arise as Elena is investigated for the murder of Bastien Du Monde, who just happened to be her fiancé before she found herself living in a swamp. With so many things at stake, Elena must be cunning and careful to avoid burning on one.
The Vine Witch is a delightful and easy read. The plot is a bit predictable in places, but managed to surprise me in others – especially the murder mystery. The author is clever about keeping the reader on their toes, guessing at who the culprit could be.
I enjoyed the characters, but wish they had a bit more depth. I liked Elena, but wasn’t invested in her plight. The romance was so-so, a lot more opportunity to create something stirring there. Jean-Paul was adorable, but again, I want to be invested. Instead I felt like I was just reading about the two main characters, not living their adventure through their eyes. The world building is well done once you realize where you are. I think the author could spend a bit more time defining turn-of-the-century France. If you didn’t read that back cover, you don’t really know where you are until you’re a few chapters in.
Overall, a fun read, but I don’t think I’ll be anticipating book two in the series.
Caitlin is the Executive Director of Catapult Chicago, the only non-profit, peer-selected community for startups with business traction. With the bulk of her career based in hospitality at luxury-level resorts, her path to running a tech hub is an interesting one! No matter where that path has led, building great teams has always been at the core. In her current role, she helps 90+ startup founders do just that. Caitlin acquired a multicultural perspective through her many experiences traveling and living abroad in the United States, Europe and South America. Her last review for us was Crown of Coral and Pearl by Mara Rutherford.