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Feast of Sorrow: A Novel of Ancient Rome Hardcover – April 25, 2017
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"If true gastronomy resides at the intersection of food, art and culture, then Crystal King's debut novel can only be described as a gastronomical delight . . . .Every page oozes with remarkable insights . . . satisfying, but readers are left hungry for more." (Associated Press)
“In her addictively readable first novel . . . the food lore is fascinating and the time period is inherently dramatic . . . .[A]ficionados of all things SPQR will eat this up.” (Kirkus Reviews)
"Finely paced. . . . the novel combines exotic menus with the melodrama of a Greek tragedy. King’s debut is a compelling historical drama with an appetizing center." (Booklist)
"King’s descriptions of the food and entertainment are exquisite, her characters are beautifully drawn, and events and people of the times are deftly woven throughout . . . A delight to the senses, King’s debut novel is to be savored and devoured." (Library Journal, starred review)
“Crystal King's debut is a feast for the senses, bringing ancient Rome to dark, vibrant life. Politics, intrigue, danger, and passion mix deliciously in this tale of a young slave vaulted into the corridors of power as personal chef to the ancient world's greatest gourmet. Not to be missed!” (Kate Quinn, author of Mistress of Rome)
"Sometimes you just want a big, fat, juicy read and Crystal King’s debut novel fits the bill. . . . Romance, power, politics and mouth-watering meals described in detail. . . . We think we’ve just discovered the Food Channel’s first miniseries." (The Huffington Post)
“Through the lens of a slave in ancient Rome, Crystal King illuminates a realm of seemingly impossible gluttony and excess, along with every other deadly sin. In the household of outrageous gourmand Apicius, he of extraordinarily decadent mores, one man, a slave, Thrasius, provides the sole ethical center. Feast of Sorrow is impossible to put down.”
(Randy Susan Meyers, bestselling author of Accidents of Marriage)
"Crystal King’s debut novel, Feast of Sorrow, tells the story of Apicius, the notorious gourmand of ancient Rome, from the viewpoint of his slave and cook Thrasius. It’s a dark and engrossing read, and provides an evocative new perspective on the rule of Tiberius." (Emily Hauser, author of For the Most Beautiful)
"Crystal King has written a delicious feast of a book, one that allows us to not only see, but also taste ancient Rome in all its dark and varied appetites." (Yael Goldstein Love, author of Overture)
"The historical world of Feast of Sorrow lives and breathes, and it is a delight to follow its characters’ struggle for happiness and survival amidst the simmering peril of Rome’s great houses. Even if you’re not a foodie drawn to novels of ancient Rome, this immersive, sensorily rich page-turner will take you for a delicious and unforgettable ride." (Tim Weed, author of Will Poole’s Island)
About the Author
Crystal King is a writer, culinary enthusiast and social media expert. Her writing is fueled by a love of history and an obsession with the food, language and culture of Italy. She has taught writing, creativity and social media at Grub Street and several universities including Harvard Extension School and Boston University. Crystal received her masters in critical and creative thinking from University of Massachusetts Boston. She lives with her husband and their two cats in the Boston area.
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Don’t expect to love the characters, though. Many of them are cruel and vile, products of their culture and class. The main character, Apicius, is so wealthy he has no concept of reality. He wants to be famous, an advisor to Caesar, and he believes his wealth can buy that. He has no idea how to lead or connect with others, only how to dole out punishment and how to make himself look good. He takes credit for things others have done and issues blame when he doesn’t get his way. Surrounded by sycophants and political enemies, this guy with zero leadership qualifications is able to toy with other people’s lives simply because he has money.
The other main characters are far more sympathetic, however, I found myself wanting more emotion from the narrator, a slave named Thrasius. He is so matter-of-fact in his telling of the events that sometimes while reading I envisioned him recalling the story from a witness stand. Nevertheless, the story is rich, vibrant, and compelling, and will have you turning pages until the very end. A fantastic debut from a marvelous writer!
The story is told through the eyes of Apicius’s slave and cook, Thasius, who really is the gastronomic expert in the story. It starts with Thasius being sold to Apicius in a slave market in Baiae and progresses with Thasius proving himself as a very skilled cook and Apicius using his skills to rise in fame for giving exquisite gourmet feasts. Apicius faces many threats, especially from Publius Octavius and Livia to his desire to become the gastronomic advisor to Caesar. Once that Apicius had established himself, he moved to Rome to gain his goal where the story continues.
The lives of slaves and patricians were portrayed very realistically. The absolute power of the paterfamilias over his family and slaves comes into play continuously throughout the novel. The dark side of slavery of physical and psychological abuse is alongside the ability of slaves to buy their freedom. The use of these aspects of Roman life is woven into the main story line quite well and adds an excellent feel of reality to the story.
Unfortunately, the story unfolds very slowly. In an attempt to hook the reader’s attention, the author adds some intrigue at the start with Thasius is told by Apicius that his previous cook died by being poisoned and he should eat only what he prepares himself. But, even with this, the story never gripped my attention. It was not until about halfway through the novel that I saw some direction and, finally, synched with the storyline. While I finally became really interested to continue reading, the novel still was not an easy read.
Because this novel did not grip my imagination and did not compel me to continue reading, this novel did not meet my criteria for high star rating. On the other hand, the rich portrayal Roman life and the interactions of the characters helped raise my rating. I give this novel four star rating. If you want an action packed novel, this is not it. If you want a novel that encapsulates ancient Roman life and intrigue, this novel could be for you.
I have received a free kindle version of this novel through NetGalley from Touchstone with a request for an honest, unbiased review. I wish to thank Touchstone for the opportunity to read this novel early.
Throughout her book the author references cooking or recipe notes attributed to Apricus allowing the reader to take a peek into the ancient world of Roman cookery. Of course this is fiction, but the fiction is based on fact, as there were cookbooks written by Apicus although they have disappeared into history. As the author writes in her "Author's Note" at the end of the book a cookbook was compiled in the third or fourth century based on Apicus' recipes.
King based her book on actual fact, interweaving characters as needed to complete her story, and backs up her research with aforementioned "Author'a Note" found at the end of her book.
If you love cooking, love ancient history, and love historic fiction you will love this book as much as I did.
Review written after downloading a galley from Edelweiss.