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Feast of Sorrow: A Novel of Ancient Rome

Review

Feast of Sorrow: A Novel of Ancient Rome

In her debut, FEAST OF SORROW, novelist Crystal King tackles a difficult topic: the amorphous character of Apicius, ancient Rome’s most famous gourmand and eponymous creator of one of the world’s oldest and continuously used cookbooks. Told through the eyes of Apicius’ head chef, the slave Thrasius, FEAST OF SORROW is a story that navigates the balance between a compelling political narrative and a rich culinary experience.

"King excels at researching a historical period, and her knowledge of the culinary life of early imperial Rome is second to none."

The book opens with Thrasius on the slave block; a skilled cook, he is highly sought-after, given his skills, but is swept up by the bon vivant Marcus Gavius Apicius. A rich-beyond-anyone’s-wildest-dreams man in Roman society who wants to make his name by becoming gastronomic adviser (a real position!) to Emperor Augustus, Apicius knows that the secret to cooking up a tasty reputation lies in the man running his kitchen. Before he knows it, Thrasius is not only organizing giant cenae, or meals, for the Apicius household, but has attained a city-wide reputation as a food artisan who has made the Gavii the talk of the town. But with that fame comes danger and unwanted attention, especially threats to Apicius’ wife and daughter, and everything he holds dear.

King excels at researching a historical period, and her knowledge of the culinary life of early imperial Rome is second to none. When Thrasius cooks up a particular recipe for one of Apicius’ extravagant dinners, the reader’s mouth waters, even when the ingredients are unfamiliar. By recreating Apicius’ famous recipes, the world of ancient Rome comes to vivid, sparkling life.

Where the novel falls short, however, is in its pacing and characterization. Thrasius’ most interesting quality is his ability to cook; as a character, he comes across as rather flat and unoriginal. Apicius’ desire to rise in the world, his chief motivation, is never fully explained, resulting in an unlikable, capricious master who the reader can’t quite trust. And Thrasius’ beloved, Passia, isn’t given any distinctive qualities that make her stand out from the other characters in the cast. Set against a fascinating political backdrop and a delicious meal, they’re almost inconsequential.

Reviewed by Carly Silver on April 28, 2017

Feast of Sorrow: A Novel of Ancient Rome
by Crystal King

  • Publication Date: April 25, 2017
  • Genres: Fiction, Historical Fiction
  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Touchstone
  • ISBN-10: 1501145134
  • ISBN-13: 9781501145131