Summary and book reviews of Feast of Sorrow by Crystal King

Feast of Sorrow

A Novel of Ancient Rome

by Crystal King

Feast of Sorrow by Crystal King
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  • Published:
    Apr 2017, 416 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Davida Chazan

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About this Book

Book Summary

Set amongst the scandal, wealth, and upstairs-downstairs politics of a Roman family, Crystal King's seminal debut features the man who inspired the world's oldest cookbook and the ambition that led to his destruction.

On a blistering day in the twenty-sixth year of Augustus Caesar's reign, a young chef, Thrasius, is acquired for the exorbitant price of twenty thousand denarii. His purchaser is the infamous gourmet Marcus Gavius Apicius, wealthy beyond measure, obsessed with a taste for fine meals from exotic places, and a singular ambition: to serve as culinary advisor to Caesar, an honor that will cement his legacy as Rome's leading epicure.

Apicius rightfully believes that Thrasius is the key to his culinary success, and with Thrasius's help he soon becomes known for his lavish parties and fantastic meals. Thrasius finds a family in Apicius's household, his daughter Apicata, his wife Aelia, and her handmaiden, Passia whom Thrasius quickly falls in love with. But as Apicius draws closer to his ultimate goal, his reckless disregard for any who might get in his way takes a dangerous turn that threatens his young family and places his entire household at the mercy of the most powerful forces in Rome.

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 ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. The story begins with Thrasius's account of the day he was purchased by Apicius in Baiae. Why do you think the author chose to make Thrasius the narrator of the story? How might the story be different if it was told from another point of view or from multiple points of view?
  2. What significance do birds have in the novel? Why do the characters in the story pay them such attention?
  3. What role does food play in ancient Roman culture? Why is Apicius so obsessed with having only the best food at his lavish dinners? What position does he hope to secure through his reputation as Rome's best gourmand? Is he successful? Why or why not? What effect do these ambitions have on the rest of his life?
  4. Consider the motif of betrayal and sabotage. Who ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

If this debut work is a taste of what King can serve up, I am hungrily looking forward to the feasts she'll cook up with next.   (Reviewed by Davida Chazan).

Full Review Members Only (638 words).

Media Reviews

Kirkus Reviews

Unfortunately, though the food lore is fascinating and the time period is inherently dramatic, the characters are so thinly drawn that the reader will care little for their fates, however grim. Nonetheless, aficionados of all things SPQR will eat this up.

Booklist

Finely paced ... the novel combines exotic menus with the melodrama of a Greek tragedy. King's debut is a compelling historical drama with an appetizing center.

Library Journal

Starred Review. King's descriptions of the food and entertainment are exquisite, her characters are beautifully drawn, and events and people of the times are deftly woven throughout ... A delight to the senses, King's debut novel is to be savored and devoured.

Author Blurb Kate Quinn, author of Mistress of Rome
Crystal King's debut is a feast for the senses, bringing ancient Rome to dark, vibrant life. Politics, intrigue, danger, and passion mix deliciously in this tale> of a young slave vaulted into the corridors of power as personal chef to the ancient world's greatest gourmet. Not to be missed!

Author Blurb Randy Susan Meyers, bestselling author of Accidents of Marriage
Feast of Sorrow is impossible to put down.

Author Blurb Emily Hauser, author of For the Most Beautiful
Crystal King's debut novel, Feast of Sorrow, tells the story of Apicius, the notorious gourmand of ancient Rome, from the viewpoint of his slave and cook Thrasius. It's a dark and engrossing read, and provides an evocative new perspective on the rule of Tiberius.

Author Blurb Tim Weed, author of Will Poole's Island
The historical world of Feast of Sorrow lives and breathes, and it is a delight to follow its characters' struggle for happiness and survival amidst the simmering peril of Rome's great houses. Even if you're not a foodie drawn to novels of ancient Rome, this immersive, sensorily rich page-turner will take you for a delicious and unforgettable ride.

Author Blurb Yael Goldstein Love, author of Overture
Crystal King has written a delicious feast of a book, one that allows us to not only see, but also taste ancient Rome in all its dark and varied appetites.

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The World's First Cookbook

Marcus Gavius ApiciusIn Crystal King's Feast of Sorrow, Apicius and his slave, Thrasius, develop their own cookbook. A quick search into Roman history reveals that Marcus Gavius Apicius actually did publish such a book (or rather a series of them), which most historians consider the first cookbook ever written. However, nowhere in the 450-500 recipes in this eponymously titled tome is there a reference to a slave by name. King made this literary leap, jumping to the conclusion that it was highly likely that a slave invented and/or produced recipes for the Apicius household, and not the master himself. The fact that several sources I found note that the language used in these books was more "vulgar" than "classical" Latin would also support this idea – even...

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