Black Wine (Tom Doherty Associates, 286 pages, $29.95 cloth), by Candas Jane Dorsey, is a feminist sci-fi quest novel-as ambitious as the adjectives imply. Dorsey, head of Tesseract Books, the foremost Canadian publisher of science fiction, has written a complex book involving several generations of women in a world that is at once fantasy yet oddly familiar. Her concerns are political, cultural, sexual, generational; her perspective refreshingly non-simplistic. For instance, although the novel is undeniably feminist in its approach, Dorsey's female characters own their dark sides and must face the consequences. There is, most notably, the cruel matriarch who enjoys administering beatings with a belt and strangles cats because their mating sounds wake her. She is a product of the Land of the Dark Isles, a society ruled by women, and is an example of how power is an equal-opportunity corrupter. Gender doesn't guarantee women immunity from the nasty aspects of their own human nature.
My only quibbles with this book are that it goes on too long, contains weak dialogue in places, and tosses up more balls in terms of time-lines, characters, sub-plots, and settings than it can successfully juggle. Despite these weaknesses, Black Wine inspires admiration for a writer who manages to sustain such a complicated imaginary universe so intelligently.