Synopsis (From Goodreads):
On a blistering day in the twenty-sixth year of Augustus Caesar’s reign, a young chef, Thrasius, is acquired for the exorbitant price of twenty thousand denarii. His purchaser is the infamous gourmet Marcus Gavius Apicius, wealthy beyond measure, obsessed with a taste for fine meals from exotic places, and a singular ambition: to serve as culinary advisor to Caesar, an honor that will cement his legacy as Rome's leading epicure.
Apicius rightfully believes that Thrasius is the key to his culinary success, and with Thrasius’s help he soon becomes known for his lavish parties and fantastic meals. Thrasius finds a family in Apicius’s household, his daughter Apicata, his wife Aelia, and her handmaiden, Passia whom Thrasius quickly falls in love with. But as Apicius draws closer to his ultimate goal, his reckless disregard for any who might get in his way takes a dangerous turn that threatens his young family and places his entire household at the mercy of the most powerful forces in Rome.
Feast Of Sorrow, by Crystal King, combines two things I am fascinated by: ancient Rome, and food. So it should be no surprise that I found this a very enjoyable novel. Filled with vivid descriptions of a noble household in ancient Rome, this book had lots of excitement too.
What I Liked:Ancient Rome:
The author goes into the intricate details of what a noble Roman house must have been like. From the food, to the clothes, and even to the furniture, Crystal King seems to have done some thorough research of the time period. But she also must be an accomplished writer because I know that there must have been gaps in her research. She writes everything so well, that I can't tell what is factual, and what is from her imagination!
Ancient Rome had several classes of people. This book focuses almost completely on the noble class and the slave class and how they interact with each other.
I found the female characters in this book to be so memorable. I loved the description of Apicius's mother, Popilla, "She looked as if she regularly bathed in unhappiness." This perfectly encapsulated her personality as a thorn in everyone's side.
The matron of the house, Aelia, is a spoiled housewife. But we see her depth as she subtly guides her husband through the tricky politics of the time, all the while submitting to her husband's whims.
Passia is a slave who takes care of Apicata, the noble child of the house. She has no control over her body, as the master of the house can "give" her to anyone for the night. When Thrasius expresses an interest in her, Passia is automatically sent to service the chef. I loved how the relationship between Thrasius and Passia became one of equals.
What I Was Mixed About:Characters:
The narrator of the story is Thrasius, a slave who is also a masterful chef. He begins his story at the age of nineteen when he is sold into the household of Marcus Gavius Apicius. Apicius ambitiously wants to become the food advisor to Caesar, and he sees Thrasius as the key to his success.
Thrasius is a passive character for most of the novel. Most of the action takes place around him. But I did enjoy his own obsession with ingredients and cooking techniques. He was also kind to other slaves and rather humble about his talents in the kitchen. But, as the book progresses and his friendship with Apicius grows, he makes excuses for his master's cruel behavior. It seemed a little like Stockholm Syndrome to me!
What I didn't Like:I found it hard to connect with some of the noble characters such as Apicius and his daughter Apicata. Apicius is so obsessed with food that he wastes a fortune seeking only the best ingredients for his table.
Apicata must do her duty and marry someone she doesn't love. She then goes on to say that slaves have it better because they are "free" to love whoever they want. Um, what about all the beatings, forced sex, and the possibility of being sold and sent away at a moments notice? And the fact that any children one had would become slaves as well.
I wondered if the author was trying to say that the noble class was as "trapped" as the slaves were. Sorry, I don't buy that.
Even with this strange correlation, this book was a wonderful historical novel. I loved descriptions of the elaborate feasts, and the attention to detail made this time period come alive for me as a reader.
Release Date: April 25th, 2017
Genre: Historical fiction
Recommendation: If you love food and are intrigued by ancient Rome, you are going to find this a satisfying reading experience.