A beautiful, rich and sensuous historical novel, John Saturnall’s Feast tells the story of a young orphan who becomes a kitchen boy at a manor house, and rises through the ranks to become the greatest Cook of his generation. It is a story of food, star-crossed lovers, ancient myths and one boy’s rise from outcast to hero.
Orphaned when his mother dies of starvation, having been cast out of her village as a witch, John is taken in at the kitchens at Buckland Manor, where he quickly rises from kitchen-boy to Cook, and is known for his uniquely keen palate and natural cooking ability. However, he quickly gets on the wrong side of Lady Lucretia, the aristocratic daughter of the Lord of the Manor. In order to inherit the estate, Lucretia must wed, but her fianc is an arrogant buffoon. When Lucretia takes on a vow of hunger until her father calls off her engagement to her insipid husband-to-be, it falls to John to try to cook her delicious foods that might tempt her to break her fast.
Reminiscent of Wolf Hall and Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, John Saturnall’s Feast is a brilliant work and a delight for all the senses.
My go-to book blog raved about this book, and I enjoyed some aspects of it, but overall I found it uneven. The story can't really decide if it's fantasy, historical fiction, love story, or allegory, and that indecision shows. The reader also has an odd pattern of intonation, so that sometimes he'll pause as if he's at the end of a sentence, only to continue with what is clearly (grammatically, at least), a modifying phrase or clause. Since I haven't seen the text, that could be Norfolk's writing pattern (I know, for example, that the Hunger Games trilogy is riddled with unnecessarily fragmented sentences), but judging from the overall flow of the narrative, I'm blaming the reader. So: it's absorbing, but as time goes on, I came to like it less. It promises a great deal, but doesn't deliver fully on those promises.
2 of 3 people found this review helpful
The plot between the characters ranged from generally uninteresting to aggravating when dealing with female sexuality. This narrative relies on the trope of rape or attempted rape of a woman facilitating immediate consensual sex. It's overused in genre fiction but no less gross for that fact. The main female character also spends her life fantasizing over romantic poetry written by her father, which is unnerving. Overall, the description of 17th century cooking was great, a really interesting basis, and the reason I gave this book 3 stars. The story built around the kitchen was unremarkable in many ways and bizarre and unsettling in others.
Narrator had a slow steady pace, but I like it. Very good regional accents, made it very real for me.