Fruit of the Golden Vine by Sophia French is a wonderful novel that’s a little difficult to explain, but is so easy to love. Part historical fantasy, part romance, part feminist treatise, I was delighted and entertained from the first page to the last.
A long time ago in a country that isn’t real, there’s a girl named Adelina. Unlike her older sister, Irena, she has no interest in marrying a man, and she has little in common with her 13 year old sister, Felise. Her sharp tongue and quick wit may endear her to her parents (even when they sometimes want to throttle her), but as a daughter she’s still her father’s property to be given to the man of his choosing, no matter how smart and spirited she may be.
One day, Rafael, a handsome baron from a distant land, comes to court Irena and brings his equally handsome sister, Silvana, with him. From her first glance at the tall woman who dresses like a man and carries a sword, Ada finally understands what she’s been missing.
Adelina is fun and funny, with an edge that ensures she’s never boring. She bristles against the restrictions on girls in her country, but subverts them at every opportunity. It’s no wonder that Silvana finds her attractive, and is willing to throw over her rakish ways for her.
Silvana’s position as Rafael’s sister and her freedom from male authority is in contrast to Ada and most of the other women in Fruit of the Golden Vine. She has short hair, dresses in clothing typically worn by men, and can wield a sword much better than her brother. Even when Ada’s mother berates her for not accepting the superiority of men and not behaving as a woman should, Silvana is articulate and persuasive.
There are several men in the book, but the two most prominent are Rafael and Ada’s father, Sebastian. Rafael is sweet and ardent in his courtship of Irena and clearly cares for Silvana, showing remorse at the appropriate moments. Sebastian leads a double life, outwardly the respectable vintner, but also the owner of the Golden Vine, the best place in town for booze, gambling, and prostitutes. He loves his wife and daughters and has already rejected many suitors who have come to court Irena, seeking her healthy dowry.
The Writing Style
Fruit of the Golden Vine is so elegantly and simply written that it reads like a fairy tale. Make no mistake, however—this is not your typical romance, and I hesitate to even call it a romance. The I-love-yous come early and easily, with courtship and getting to know each other following for both couples.
The romance between Adalina and Silvana develops in tandem with Rafael and Irena’s, highlighting how heterosexual love can flourish easily while queer love needs to stay in the shadows in some societies. Rafael and Irena are kicking the tires of their relationship while waiting for Sebastian to decide if he’ll give (yes, give) her to Rafael, but there’s no easy way for Ada and Silvana to be together. For anyone who might be concerned, Ada and Silvana get sex scenes and Rafael and Irena do not.
With great characters, great writing, and great pacing, Fruit of the Golden Vine has it all. This is also a novel that wears its feminism on its sleeve, which I especially loved. Silvana isn’t afraid to challenge every boring notion of womanhood, even to the point of questioning whether men’s clothes are still men’s when they’re worn by a woman.
I don’t know if this is a con, but it’s listed on the Bella site as a historical novel and while it has a historical flavour to it, it really is historical fantasy.
Fruit of the Golden Vine is fantastic and I highly recommend it.
Excerpt from Fruit of the Golden Vine by Sophia French
“What’s that beautiful design on your face?” Impelled by daring, Adelina placed her fingertip against Silvana’s cheek—the soft skin set her heart skittering again—and traced the branching lines. Her fingers trembled as they moved. “It’s like a tree.”
Silvana tilted her head, allowing Adelina to run her fingers toward her neck. “It’s a custom of our family.” Adelina’s caress reached the delicate shape of Silvana’s collarbone, where the branching lines faded, and Adelina lifted her shaking hand away. An unfamiliar fire burned low in her body, and her heart seemed to have lost sense of its usual rhythm.
“You’re blushing.”Silvana smiled, and the scalding heat in Adelina’s skin spread to the top of her chest and tips of her ears. “Oh, and now you’re really blushing.”
Adelina turned her head away. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have touched you like that. It was impolite.”
“Don’t fear, Adelina. I enjoy being touched.”Silvana’s low laughter set Adelina tingling. “And I like your impoliteness. As far as I’m concerned, it speaks well of your character.”
Bits and Bobs
- ISBN number: 9781594934599
- Publisher: Bella Books
Eden French Online
Note: I received a free review copy of this book for review. No money was exchanged for this review. I will always review books as honestly as possible and on occasion I refuse to review books.