I’d like to draw your attention to a book I once loved: Black Wine by Canadian author Candas Jane Dorsey. It’s speculative fiction, not easily categorized as either fantasy or SF. I read it in university, and I remember it being a literary novel, a rather difficult read both on the level of narrative and for its sometimes brutal imagery. But I persevered, and was rewarded by beauty. The author is also a poet, and it shows.
(Full disclosure: I know Candas from way back. I used to volunteer for her back when she ran The Books Collective — a variety of imprints that included the venerable Tesseract Books, now part of Canadian publisher Edge Press — and I count her among my writing mentors.)
But it’s been a long time since I’ve read it, so I’m turning to others to fill in the gaps of my memory. Cheryl Morgan, Hugo Award-winning SF critic, blogger, and publisher, has this to say about it:
Black Wine, by Candas Jane Dorsey, follows the lives of three women in three very different societies. It is clear from the start they have some connection and are therefore probably in different parts of the same world. Slowly but surely, we see how their lives are intertwined, and they unravel the secrets of their past.
The world that Dorsey has created is very interesting, being just on the cusp of becoming technological. On the one hand there are castles and taverns that make the place seem almost mediaeval. On the other there are airships which bespeak a certain level of engineering sophistication. Best of all, as the book proceeds, Dorsey uses increased evidence of technology as a signal that time is passing and that the societies she describes are evolving.
And Jo Walton, author of last year’s multi-award-winning Among Others, says this:
It’s fantasy, but it might just as well be science fiction. There are some small insignificant magic gifts. There are some prophetic cards which seem to work. It’s another planet, anyway, a whole planet with as many cultures and climate zones as you’d expect, and a moon that rotates. There’s some technology, airships, medical imaging, but it’s unevenly distributed. There doesn’t seem to have been an industrial revolution, most of what you see is handmade. They know about genes, but children are as often conceived between two same-sex partners as two opposite sex ones. Against this world we have a story of travel towards and away from, of mothers and daughters, quest and escape, horizons and enclosures.
It’s beautifully written at all levels. The language is precise yet lapidary—literally. The words are like stones, sometimes sharp and sometimes jewel-bright, and all of them essentially placed in the structure of the novel.
As you can see, it’s not for everyone; it requires a reader who enjoys working for meaning. But don’t let that scare you off. If you’re a fan of China Miéville or other literary-leaning speculative fiction writers, you’ll probably like this.
Black Wine won Canada’s top speculative fiction prize, the Prix Aurora Award, for best novel in English, as well as the Tiptree Award for best novel about gender, and the Crawford Award for best first fantasy novel.
It was out of print for some time. But it’s just been re-released, in paperback and ebook, by the Canadian press Five Rivers Publishing. If it sounds like your cup of tea, you can also buy the new edition on Amazon.