Favorite Quote: “An automobile still attracted attention in the small town. Especially one with two women wanted for escape and murder sitting in the leather seats.”
The Vine Witch bridges two worlds, allowing the reader to nestle into a historical fantasy that is familiar enough to be comfortable, but interesting enough to be entertaining. Set in the early 20th century French countryside, there is a clash between the remote villagers and the city folk who are beginning to push into their bucolic home.
The different customs are evident. The urbanites are bewildered by the villager’s reliance on outdated superstitions, while the villagers are confused that the urbanites wouldn’t utilize a solid and reliable witch to help with their harvests. I guess those fancy city folks think that magic is just a bumbling country notion.
When Jean-Paul, an attorney from Paris, buys the failing vineyard and insists on a strictly scientific approach to repairing it, the resident vine witch Elena does her best to hide her magic from him. How she manages that with a lot of chanting, burning of incense, stars drawn on the floor, and speaking to insects is gently smoothed over by the author, Luanne G. Smith.
But Elena is dealing more than just Jean-Paul’s stubbornness. She is also determined to get revenge on her former fiancé, who cursed her for seven years to live as a toad. Things become thorny, though, when that same fiancé turns up dead, and every eye turns toward the witch who swore revenge on him. (Folks, don’t advertise your revenge plans, especially when they include murder. It’s awkward for everyone).
From an incredibly strong opening chapter, the pacing of the book sometimes feels off. Some scenes are rushed, while others drag. Watching Jean-Paul and Elena interact is fine, but by far the best part of the book is learning more about this shadow-world, where magic slips into everyday life like salt in a restaurant. I wanted to see more, and learn more about baking witches, carnival witches, and even the monks who train orphaned witches at the local abbey. I can feel an incredibly rich and charming world that I would love to sink into for a while, and which is starkly contrasted by the flat, one-sided characters. The novel is too short for character development, but the seductive world of Vine Witch makes it still worth the read.