There is so much more to this novel than the synopsis would have you believe. Set in 17th Century England, John Saturnall’s story is set during a politically unstable time (the rise and downfall of Cromwell) and evokes local mythology to give it a magical yet historic feeling. Reader be warned, the book gets off to a slow start with John and his mother struggling in their village, but once John enters the manor kitchens and his unique gift is allowed to develop, it gets fun. I think some of the more tedious parts were worth it for the overall experience of the book. I enjoyed witnessing John grow up and cultivate his extraordinary skill as a cook. The chaos of the busy manor kitchen is tangible, and the author did a fantastic job creating the atmosphere with the heat of the fires, the clamor of pots and pans, and the luxurious scents of the food and spices.
John is such a well written character, but there are dozens of other individuals that add so much to John’s story. Lady Lucretia, the daughter of the manor’s lord, is a haughty girl who becomes a complex woman in the face of misfortune. There are other villainous characters that I loved to hate, but also plenty of entirely endearing individuals. John is not just an orphan who rises in the ranks of the manor’s kitchen; he is an unlikely hero in the lives of the entire household. He cooks for a king, witnesses battles, keeps his friends from starving, and faces up to his enemies. It’s a solid novel with a lot to offer: history, romance, tragedy, and culinary delights.
I received a complimentary copy of this book via the Amazon Vine program.
Another great culinary novel is Gourmet Rhapsody by Muriel Barbery, and it’s about 1/3 the size.