I love stories set in ancient Rome. Usually these are murder mysteries, and I’m delighted that Ancient Roman Detective is a genre, but I’d actually just like a novel that happens to take place in Rome.
Feast of Sorrow by Crystal King tells the story of a kitchen slave, Thrasius, and his owner, the gourmand Apicius. Thrasius is no mere cook, though, and under Apicius’ command, Thracius plans and caters elaborate parties, becoming a master chef as as Apicius tries to become Caesar’s arbiter of taste. But, as Apicius comes closer to his goal of becoming Caesar’s gourmand, they get closer to the machinations of the Julio-Claudians and DO YOU SEE HOW GREAT THIS BOOK IS?
I love historical fiction, but I don’t really like when historical fiction characters espouse modern attitudes and beliefsm instead of what would make the most sense for their time. A lady-in-waiting at the Tudor court isn’t likely to bathe daily, for example, but I can go with that as a character quirk. It strains my credibility when she also plans to marry only for love, thinks peasants are just as good as lords, thinks the four humours are silly and the handwashing will stop the spread of the flu, and wishes corsets would go out of style and jeans would come in, etc., etc.
But everyone in Feast of Sorrow behaves with solid Roman values. Aulia turns from loving mother to dutiful Roman matron when the situation demands it, and Apicius takes his responsibilities as paterfamilias very seriously. Thrasius accepts the Roman system of slavery, and he’s pretty blase about the sexual abuse and violence that any paterfamilias is entitled to, which makes it even more heartbreaking.
Loads of kitchen and dining details make it into the book, but the descriptions never slow down the action. I mean, I did want to see what horrible things Livia and Sejanus and the rest were up to, but I also really enjoyed the morning scenes of patron Apicius greeting his clients, or Thrasius noticing the shadow guests tailing the important, invited dinner guests.
It’s not a spoiler if I tell you something that happened 2000 years ago, is it? Ok, so a lot of the novel hinges on Sejanus, and you know that once everything finally catches up with him, he gets one of the grislier Roman punishments. About five minutes before I got there, I suddenly remembered my Suetonius and I realized the terrible thing that was about to happen to his children. Roman attitudes, all the way though.