Black Wine
Candas Jane Dorsey
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Get *Black Wine* delivered to your door! Black Wine

Candas Jane Dorsey
Tor Books
Copyright 1997
285 pages
rated 5 of 5 possible stars

If Canadian author Candas Jane Dorsey's name doesn't ring a bell, mentally file a card with her name on it. Dorsey has been a player in the speculative-fiction field for years, and not only as a novelist. She's written short stories and poetry, edited anthologies and texts, founded imprints and newspapers, acted as publisher for Canada's oldest spec-fic imprint. Perhaps with Black Wine, Dorsey can break out to a wider recognition in the genre. This book, winner of the IAFA/Crawford Award for Best First Fantasy Novel, showcases Dorsey's formidable imagination and distinctive voice.

Dorsey achieves in Black Wine the adrenaline rush of disorientation found most often in cyberpunk, but at the other end of the technology spectrum. She paints the inner and outer worlds of her characters with powerful imagery, and the emotional impact rivals that of the best literary novels being written today. It is at once a complex story simply told and a simple story rich with discovery of the true self. The world of Black Wine is one whose many familiarities only point up the fantastic landscape. Dorsey's triumph is that she can draw the reader so utterly into this jarring juxtaposition of the familiar and the alien.

Told in two braided narrative lines, Black Wine follows the circuitous paths of two women. One is a fugitive from an oppressive family of power in a repressed society, the other an amnesiac slave whose point of view gives the prose its skewed sense of personal identity. The two stories, which converge with violent recognition far into the book, present a fascinating dichotomy. The runaway member of the ruling class is bound and haunted by the history and dynamics of the damaged family she seeks to forever escape; the naive slave girl finds savage satisfaction in the freedom to be had within the reach of the chains of bondage. Dorsey sets this pair of stories into motion against the backdrop of a world suggested more than explained, hinted at rather than fully fleshed. This shadowy worldview contributes to the reader's power to empathize with an amnesiac trying to define her place in her surroundings.

This is an heroic quest styled against the grain of the sword-and-sorcery saturating the speculative fiction world of late. The story's mystery is one of identity, and when memories come flooding back in a rush, the reader is swept along in a current of emotional doubling. Dorsey's working title for Black Wine was The Book of Essa. While the working title is certainly appropriate, the final title conveys far better the novel's sensuous, enigmatic nature. For jaded or bored fantasy readers, Black Wine is the cure.

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