I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.
Vanity. Self-esteem. Conceitedness. Confidence. There’s a fine line between taking pride in one’s appearance and becoming obsessed with it to the point of becoming Narcissus. Hermione Eyre’s Viper Wine, takes a close look at vanity and social standing through Venetia Stanley in seventeenth century England.
During Charles I’s reign, many ladies of the court begin to have a similar appearance and partake in the same beauty regiment, called Viper Wine, prescribed discretely by physician Lancelot Choice. The central characters of the novel are Venetia Stanley, a renowned beauty known for inspiring poetry, and her husband, Sir Kenelm Digby, a decorated alchemist, explorer, philosopher, courtier, and time-traveler. Kenelm knows of ways to maintain and rejuvenate his wife’s beauty yet when she asks him, he refuses her because he doesn’t see that she has a need of it, which leads her to seek out the aid of Lancelot Choice and her dependence upon his assistance and Viper Wine begins. With the novel based upon real events, readers are presented with a 1632 infused with contemporary references.
I’ll start by saying that I am rather conflicted about this book. There were certainly aspects that I rather enjoyed, but there was also a general confusion that I had throughout reading the book that was never remedied to a satisfying end. From the book’s flap copy, “Based on real events and written with anachronistic verve, Viper Wine is an intoxicating brew of love, longing, and vanity, where the seventeenth and twenty-first centuries mix and mingle in the most enchanting and mind-bending ways.” Mind-bending, yes; enchanting, not quite.
I thought that the language was wonderful and the narrative was beautifully written and reflective of the 1600s and the characters were well created and each was provided with a sense of realism as their appearance and personality were adequately explored to present a complete picture of their person; however, I was consistently pulled out of the narrative with jarring references to contemporary technologies, people, etc. without sufficient context for the use of such references. The concept certainly has great potential of combining both time periods for an intriguing story, but I felt that the execution of Viper Wine fell horribly short of that potential.
Overall, I’d give it a 3 out of 5 stars.