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
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
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.