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Viper Wine by Hermione Eyre

The bright arty cover drew me to Viper Wine, but it was the deliciousness within that kept me hooked! 

The court of Charles I is filled with rich and titled ladies, all vying to the most beautiful or most accomplished. They have come across a new beauty secret known as Viper Wine; a potent beauty potion distilled by a charismatic physician that claims to hold back the ageing process and promote stunning looks. 

Famed beauty Venetia Stanley has found that as her ages increases, her reputation as a beauty to behold also wanes and her self confidence takes a nose-dive. She already partakes in a number of beautifying rituals but they are not enough to satisfy her need to be the best. 

She falls under the spell of Viper Wine; keeping her daily drinks a secret from her husband, she becomes a rejuvenated beauty of old, much to the surprise of her friends and the rest of court. But as her addiction to the drink takes hold and her need for beauty consumes her, she takes her aspirations too far with devastating effects. 

As well as Venetia’s tale of pride, we also follow the story of her devoted husband, Sir Kenelm Digby, whose alchemical experiments and forward thinking push him to expand the boundaries of his knowledge (and his library), even in the face of religious conflict and a society plagued by a crushing fear of the unknown. 

This book is set in the 1600s but with quotes and references spanning before and after this time. I smiled when I came across some David Bowie lyrics unassumingly quoted in part of the story and Kenelm’s visions of the future were cleverly worked in. 

As a couple, the Digbys are wondrous to read about. Venetia’s cause is understandable, if not condonable, and her character is glamorous, wily and headstrong and I loved her for it! I was a little bit in love with Kenelm; with his passion for science and learning, his seemingly limitless imagination and overflowing library and his true devotion to his wife. 

Based on real events, this story is wonderfully painted with the rich colours of the scandal-mongering court, the dirty hues of a secretive underworld of suspect beauty practices and the glittering brightness of an advanced future just around the corner. 

This book really had it all for me; history, love, intelligence, humour and scandal. It was sexy, witty and exquisitely described with memorable characters and intelligently crafted prose.  I really can’t praise this book enough; I think this is a new favourite of mine; having devoured it quicker than Venetia could down a vial of her Viper Wine and being left thirsty for more! 

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