Monday, September 17, 2012

John Saturnall's Feast by Lawrence Norfolk

John Saturnall is a young boy growing up fatherless in a small village in England during the early 17th century.  While there are whispers that John's mother is a witch, her neighbors trust in her knowledge of plants, herbs, and medicines. It's from his mother and her special book that John to read and to identify and use  plants, herbs, and spices.   As the religious wars grow heated, a new pastor leads the villagers in a hunt for the "witch".   With their home destroyed, John and his mother hide in the woods as winter approaches.  After John's mother dies, he is found sent to Buckland Manor house, where his mother had worked years before.

Starved, filthy, and desperate, John knows that Buckland Manor is his last hope.  One of the younger kitchen staff enlists John's help with a job and John finds his way to the kitchens.  There is a moment in the book, during John's first visit to the kitchens where he stuns the cooks with his ability to identify the spices and flavors in a special dish.  This feat catches the attention of the Head of the Kitchens and wins him a place in Buckland Manor.  It's in these kitchens at Buckland Manor that John finds a home.   As he advances and grows into his gift, young John's cooking challenges are legendary.  John cooks for the King of England.  When Lady Lucretia enters into a fast to protest an unwanted engagement,  John is tasked with tempting Lady Lucretia to eat again.  And when Civil War erupts,  Lady Lucretia and John work to ensure the manor's survival.

John Saturnall's Feast started slow but it drew me in once John arrived at Buckland Manor.   John's friendship with the young kitchen boy, Philip,  marks a turning point in John's life and in the novel.  There is the added complication of John's love for Lady Lucretia and his heated encounters with her fiance.  John and his story grow, become special, and make for an absorbing read.   
  • ISBN-10: 0802120512 - Hardcover $26.00 416 pages.
  • Publisher: Grove Press; 1 edition (September 4, 2012), 416 pages.
  • Review copy courtesy of the publisher and the Amazon Vine Program.

About the Author:
Lawrence Norfolk is the author of the critically acclaimed novels Lempeire's Dictionary, The Pope's Rhinocerous, and In the Shape of a Boar.  Lempriere's Dictionary was named a New York Times Notable 

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