Feast of Sorrow

Written by Crystal King
Review by Ann Pedtke

As a slave about to go on the auction block in 1st-century Rome, Thrasius has few hopes for his future. He hitches his wagon to his transcendent passion: food. When the renowned gourmet Marcus Gavius Apicius arrives on the scene in search of a household cook, Thrasius convinces him he need look no further, and Apicius purchases him for the outrageous sum of twenty thousand denarii. At first, Thrasius can hardly believe his good fortune: he will oversee the kitchen of a wealthy household, with access to every exotic ingredient he can dream of—not to mention frequent chances to see Apicius’s beautiful handmaiden, Passia. However, he soon learns that Apicius’s appetite for fame is even more insatiable than his appetite for fine cooking. As Apicius angles to become culinary advisor to Caesar, he pushes Thrasius into more and more precarious situations, until the entire household’s safety hangs in the balance with each meal.

Based on the life of the man who inspired one of the world’s first cookbooks, this novel has plenty of ingredients for intrigue: upstairs-downstairs politics, poisonings, and cameos by famous figures in Caesar’s household. Yet the plot ebbs and flows. Antagonists are built up only to vanish abruptly from the narrative. The relationship between Thrasius and Passia—seemingly predicated solely on Passia’s physical charms—never gains enough depth to truly drive the story. However, while the plot shows some seams, the interspersed recipe snippets and immaculately researched culinary descriptions never fail to delight. King shines as a food writer and guarantees that the reader will finish this book with a new knowledge of ancient cooking—and perhaps a persistent craving for roast dormice and flamingo tongue.