Excerpt from Feast of Sorrow by Crystal King, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Feast of Sorrow

A Novel of Ancient Rome

by Crystal King

Feast of Sorrow by Crystal King X
Feast of Sorrow by Crystal King
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  • First Published:
    Apr 2017, 416 pages
    Paperback:
    Apr 2018, 416 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Davida Chazan
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CHAPTER 1

Marcus Gavius Apicius purchased me on a day hot enough to fry sausage on the market stones. It was the twenty-sixth year of Augustus Caesar's reign. I was nineteen and I'd been put up for sale at the slave auction in Baiae after three months under Titus Atilius Bulbus, a fat, swarthy beast I was glad never to see again. I thanked the gods for the day Bulbus realized that a good cook was worth ten times his weight in denarii and decided it was more advantageous to sell me than to sleep with me.

Midmorning, the slave master, a heavy man with a barrel-shaped torso supported by birdlike legs, shuffled me toward an empty pen at the end of the slave platform. He brought a stool so I didn't have to sit on the dusty ground as two haggard old women scrubbed my naked body until not a trace of grime lingered on my skin. They trimmed my hair and scraped off my beard, leaving me cleaner than I'd been in months.

From my bench in the new pen, I heard my future master before I saw him.

"Ah, Master Apicius," the slaver said in a simpering voice unlike the one with which he usually barked out commands at his slaves. "I am glad you are here. I have two others inquiring about the cook. I hoped you would arrive first."

"Where is he?" Apicius asked, his voice a smooth baritone.

There was a rustle of tent flaps and the slap of sandals on the hot stones. I scrambled to my feet as they rounded the corner and came into view. Apicius looked about a decade older than me, with dark hair and an aquiline nose typical of a long Roman bloodline. An extraordinarily tall Egyptian with wick-black hair and biceps the size of ham hocks hovered in the background. I surmised that he was Apicius's body-slave—the personal attendant who accompanied him everywhere.

The slaver opened the door to the pen and yanked me out to stand in front of Apicius, who took appraisal of my naked body, noting with his eyes that my head was bare. "No cap." He nodded his approval. The lack of a slave cap meant the fat slave master would guarantee me for six months. It also meant I was worth more.

Apicius lifted the bronze plaque around my neck, freshly polished and etched with my credentials and history of ownership. I would wear it every day of my life as a slave. "Free of illness. Does not steal. Good, good. Thrasius, eh? That's a Greek name."

I nodded, unsure if I should speak.

"You were the coquus to Flavius Maximus?" Apicius let go of the plaque and it slapped against my chest. "Interesting. I dined with Maximus a few months before his death. We had sausages of pheasant, sweet melon relish, and a patina of small fry. Was that your doing?"

I gathered my courage and hoped my voice did not shake. I remembered that patina—an egg custard of which Maximus was quite fond. "Yes. The sweet melon relish was something new that I was trying."

"How long did you work for Maximus?"

"I ran his kitchen for a year before he died. He was fond of entertaining." My mind raced. Apicius was certainly interested in my cooking but what if this man was as cruel as Bulbus?

Apicius raised an eyebrow at me. "Can you make roasted peacock?"

"Yes. I have a recipe for peacock with damson raisins soaked in myrtle wine. It works equally well with partridge or duck. I'm sure you would find the dish to your liking." I wiped sweat off my brow.

"What do you consider your specialty?"

"There are three," I answered, raising my voice in order to be heard over the din of the market. "My ham in pastry, with honey and figs, has often been praised, but I have been told it is equaled by my truffles with pepper, mint, and rue. I can also make you a dish of roasted salt belly pork with a special mixture of garum, cumin, and lovage."

Apicius smiled and started to ask another question. But the slave master was growing impatient. "The boy will make you famous," he whispered to Apicius. "With him cooking, you will have clients and friends lining up in the morning, begging for a spot at one of your cenae!" He paused. Apicius glowed.

Excerpted from Feast of Sorrow by Crystal King. Copyright © 2017 by Crystal King. Excerpted by permission of Touchstone. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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