Reviews > Published on April 13th, 2015

Bookshots: 'Viper Wine' by Hermione Eyre

Bookshots: Pumping new life into the corpse of the book review


Viper Wine

Who Wrote It?

Eyre projects today's beauty standards/obsessions on the already-intriguing British royal society of the 1600s.

British celebrity journalist turned novelist, Hermione Eyre. She may just have the best female writer name ever.

Plot in a Box:

Among women of the court of the British monarchy, circa 1632, beauty is prized above all. Treatments, elixirs, visits to back-alley surgeons; they'll try anything to stay young and fresh. Enter the mysteriously handsome physician, Lancelot Choice, and his promises of near-eternal youth with his heady concoction: Viper Wine.

Add to this mixture the famed English beauty, Venetia Digby, far past her voluptuous prime, and her confusingly anachronistic, alchemist husband Sir Kenelm Digby. He loves his wife; she despises her aging figure. Mix and stir.

Laced with instructions for ancient remedies, and full of shallow, headstrong characters, this book is a recipe for something special...or a disaster.

Invent a New Title For This Book:

The Beautiful People, The Beautiful People

Read This If You Liked:

In tone and breadth, this book feels a bit like an homage to Susanna Clark's incredible Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell. 

Meet the Book's Lead(s):

Sir Kenelm Digby, an alchemist with ties to the world of the future, who's utterly smitten with his wife, Venetia.

Venetia Digby, a woman once prized for her gorgeous face, who now hides its aging features behind a veil. At least until she starts taking Viper Wine.

Said Lead(s) Would Be Portrayed In a Movie By:

Kenelm pretty much has to be Hugh Jackman, because every interesting and brilliant Brit should be played by Hugh Jackman.

Venetia could be played by any gorgeous Hollywood actress who's of child-rearing age. I'm picturing Naomi Watts.

Setting: Would You Want to Live There?

England of the mid-1600s is the stuff of literary legend, no? The age of Shakespeare. Marlowe. Jonson.

Politically, the monarchy was in full power, overseeing everything, and intrigue was rampant among the court. I'm sure it was endlessly entertaining and dramatic.

But would I want to live there? No. No thanks. I'd probably be tried as a witch or something.

What Was Your Favorite Sentence?

As he spoke he looked often at Olive. Her pretty, too-tight face was frozen into a rictus of concentration. If she could have frowned she would have frowned, but instead her face had settled into an expression that looked somehow stunned.


Theydore de Mayerne is a fart-britches.

Because, in my heart of hearts, I am a five-year-old.

The Verdict:

I wanted to love this book. I had such high hopes for it. 

Because it's an interesting idea: Eyre inserts her readers into a historical world obsessed with beauty, in which the women of the royal court will stop at nothing to retain the loveliness of their youthful faces. Penned by a celebrity journalist, facing contemporary times full of Kardashians and facial peels and liposuction and tummy tucks, Eyre projects today's beauty standards/obsessions on the already-intriguing British royal society of the 1600s.

Add to the mix a group of men who are scholars. Scientists. Who somehow have mysterious ties to our future world, and thus have randomly anachronistic knowledge that they use in various and mysterious ways.

It should work. 

It really should.

But to me, Viper Wine fell flat. It stumbled. Where I expected to find tropes overturned, and heroines established among shallow women, I found only...more shallow women. I found men being men, and women being women, strictly within the confines of their gender roles. For that reason, I felt disengaged. Apart. I never got sucked in, excited to turn the page to find out what would happen. In the end, I just didn't really care about the characters.

Do keep in mind, though: I'm just a single reader. Eyre is a talented writer. Her prose is lovely, her imagination seemingly boundless within this very structured, well-built world. It may be that this book is up your alley. It simply, in the end, wasn't up mine.

About the author

Leah Rhyne is a Jersey girl who's lived in the South so long she's lost her accent...but never her attitude. After spending most of her childhood watching movies like Star Wars, Aliens, and A Nightmare On Elm Street, and reading books like Stephen King's The Shining or It, Leah now writes horror and science-fiction. She lives with her husband, daughter, and a small menagerie of pets.

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