Review: The Champagne War by Fiona McIntosh

Title: The Champagne War

Author: Fiona McIntosh

Published: November 2020, Michael Joseph

Status: Read November 2020 courtesy PenguinRandomHouse Australia

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My Thoughts:

Set in France during World War I, The Champagne War by Fiona McIntosh is a grand tale of romance, resilience, courage and champagne.

It is love at first sight between Sophie Delancré, a fifth generation champenoise, and vigneron Jerome Méa, but they have mere weeks together following their wedding in 1914 before Jerome must leave his bride to do his duty in defence of France. Determined that the production of the Delancré House will not falter despite the war, Sophie throws herself into her dual role of tending the vines and making her champagne while she waits for the return of her new husband. When the news that Jerome is missing, lost in action when his position in Ypres was attacked during the first deployment of Chlorine gas by the Germans, reaches her a year later, Sophie is devastated, but without a body, refuses to relinquish the hope that he is alive somewhere. As the war drags on and the fighting creeps closer, Sophie and those left behind in the villages of Épernay and Reims, nevertheless continue to nurture the vineyards and ensure the production of their champagne, though to do so risks placing Sophie in the debt of her odious brother-in-law, Louis.

Sophie is a wonderful character, she is a smart, strong, passionate, and independent woman, but her loyalty to her family’s legacy is near all-consuming. With Jerome missing, presumed dead, and the privations of war worsening affecting her ability to produce champagne, Sophie becomes vulnerable to Louis’s manipulation. It’s the fortuitous arrival of injured British Army Captain and former chemist, Charlie Nash, that provides Sophie with an alternative, not only to her grief and loneliness, but also her desperate need for sugar.

Charlie is the only member of his company to survive a fierce battle on the outskirts of Reim, having been badly injured he is invited to convalesce at Sophie’s home in Épernay along with a dozen or so other soldiers. He is an appealing character, revealing himself to be a principled man despite the compromises demanded by war. Charlie is immediately infatuated with Sophie, who is surprised to find she returns his interest, even though she can’t let go of the hope that Jerome still lives.

Though romance is an essential element of The Champagne War, the story is much more than just that. As always, McIntosh masterfully weaves historical fact into her tale of fiction. The story is meticulously researched in terms of location, period and the specifics of the champagne industry. The horrors of war, particularly as experienced by Jerome and Charlie, are portrayed with authenticity, and though I personally dislike the taste of champagne, I still found learning about its complex production and makeup to be interesting. For those that enjoy a drop or two, Fiona has thoughtfully provided a bonus, recipe’s for Sabayon and Champagne Truffles.

The Champagne War is a sparkling, elegant, and effervescent, novel, to be savoured.

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Also by Fiona McIntosh reviewed at Book’d Out

Review: The Diamond Hunter by Fiona McIntosh

 

Title: The Diamond Hunter

Author: Fiona McIntosh

Published: November 1st 2019, Michael Joseph

Status: Read November 2019, courtesy PenguinRandomHouse

++++++

My Thoughts:

From a ramshackle, dusty miners camp in Southern Africa, to the green countryside of northern England, and the bustling city of London, Fiona McIntosh takes us on a journey of heartbreak, trust, betrayal, and love in her latest historical fiction novel, The Diamond Hunter.

Clementine is just six when her well-born mother succumbs to malaria on the plains of Southern Africa where her father, James, has brought them, determined to make his fortune during the 1870’s gold rush in Africa. With his wife’s death, James obsession to prove his worth grows and he stakes a claim in a nearby diamond mine, but haunted by grief and guilt, both the working of the claim, and the care of Clementine, is largely left to his partner, Joseph One-Shoe, a Zulu warrior.

Just as Joseph uncovers a large diamond that will ensure a secure future for them all, tragedy strikes, and Clementine has no choice but to return to England in the care of her Uncle to claim her birthright as the only legitimate heir of the wealthy Grant family.

Clementine is a wonderful character, as a child she is sweetly precocious, adoring both her father, despite his obvious flaws, and Joseph One-Shoe, whose love for her is achingly tender. Though still only a child when she returns to a life of privilege in England, as she grows Clementine remains grounded, and I found her to be an appealing heroine.

Joseph One-Shoe is also a delight, a Zulu warrior with a largely unpronounceable name, it’s is Clementine that christens him due to his preference of wearing just one shoe in order to remain connected to the land. In her Author’s Notes, McIntosh reveals she based his character on a young African man who was hired to care for her and her family while they lived in a gold mining camp in Africa during the 1960’s.

Reggie Grant, Clementine’s Uncle, is perhaps the most complex character in the novel, neither a hero nor a villain, he is both laudable, and deeply flawed. His actions are the catalyst for the questions that arise surrounding the death of Clementine’s father, driving her to determine the truth.

There is a touch of romance introduced to the plot when Clementine meets Will Axford, an underwriter for Lloyd’s of London. While somewhat conservative in his thinking, Will is a good match for her, in that he is plain spoken and honourable, though perhaps to a fault. The unresolved nature of their relationship is unusual for McIntosh, and I wonder if perhaps the author has plans to return to this story.

As always, McIntosh’s deftly weaves historical fact into her fiction. The story is meticulously researched, and her descriptions evocative, particularly in terms of her depiction of the frenzy surrounding the diamond rush, and the settlement that grew around ‘The Hole’, which later became the capital city of South Africa’s Northern Cape Province, Kimberley. The author also includes some general insight into the diamond trade during the period, and alludes to Lloyd’s of London’s first steps in expanding beyond marine policies.

Beautifully written with authentic characterisation and detail, The Diamond Hunter is a captivating read from, as I’m quoted on the back cover, an extraordinary storyteller.

++++++

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Available from PenguinRandomHouse

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository

Also by Fiona McIntosh reviewed at Book’d Out