A Feast of Sorrow captures the beauty, opulence and madness of Rome during the reign of the Caesars. The story is told from the point of view of a slave in the household of Apicius. But, not just any slave. Thrasius is a cook, a coquus, the head of Apicius’ kitchen. He makes some of the finest delicacies known and invents new ones.
Apicius is wealthy beyond reason. He has the ability to purchase Thrasius the finest ingredients and the rarest spices. Apicius’ dream is to become Caesar’s gastronomic adviser. But that position isn’t acquired by wealth alone. Political currency and power is the only way forward.
And the stage is set. Feast of Sorrow has heroes, villains and, of course, food. What a strange and weird feast it is. Honeyed dormice, flamingo tongues, and more- only the best for Apicius and his clients.
Thrasius begins writing a book to preserve his master’s recipes for all time. “I added your trick about using eggs to help make cloudy wind clear, instructions on how to preserve oysters, and even Fannia’s recipe for how to make wormwood liquor. I thought about how many cooks don’t have the right information or knowledge.” loc 1592. Interestingly enough, after the tale, Crystal King talks about how Apicius’ recipes are some of the oldest surviving examples of ancient cuisine.
“Stuff the dormice with pork forcemeat and also with all the flesh from all the parts of the dormouse, pounded with pepper, pine nuts, silphium, and liquamen. Sew them up and arrange them on a tile and put them into the oven or cook them, stuffed, in a covered pot.” -On Cookery, Apicius. Loc 4466, ebook. Mmmmmm.
King fills these pages not just with food, but also, to modern eyes, the strange and sometimes cruel practices of the Roman people. Did you know that Roman diners used to wipe their hands clean in the hair of their slaves? Did you know that Romans had special priests who read the flight of birds to determine if an event was going to be successful or not? Did you know that patricians, the nobility of Rome, were judged not only for their appearance and natural abilities but also how well they could throw a dinner party?
I enjoyed this book not only for the way that King told the story of the nameless people who made Apicius’ name known for all time but also for the twists and turns it contains. Feast of Sorrow will shock you, entertain you and, maybe, make you want to try a dormouse.
Thank you to NetGalley and Touchstone Publishing for a free digital advance reader copy of this book. Note: the brief quotations that I pulled from my copy may change in the final published version. Thanks for reading!