Book Review: Feast of Sorrow by Crystal King

Feast of Sorrow is a brilliant work of Historical fiction which seamlessly interweaves fictional and historical characters and, in addition, provides an insight into how the Romans conducted their famous feasts, what foods they ate and how they were prepared.

Apicius was a famous gourmand of first century A.D. Rome, the beginning of the Julio-Claudian dynasty. He wrote and published a number of cook books and was renowned for his cenas-the many course feasts that Romans ate while lounging on their triclinia.

The story is told from the point of view of Thrasius, a freed slave who is the true genius behind Apicius’ culinary success. He begins from the time Apicius buys him in the year 1 BC.

Apicius is extremely rich, having inherited 100 million denarii, and he is monumentally profligate, something that makes Thrasius uncomfortable. He has a villa in Baiae, a popular resort town and Apicius installs Thrasius there as his cook. His feasts are the talk of the town, with everyone vying for invitations.

Apicius is married to Aelia, and they have a little daughter named Apicata. Thrasius soon becomes a favorite of the family, and falls in love with Apicata’s nursemaid, Passia. Baiae is idyllic, and Thrasius leads a privileged existence for a slave. Apicius, however, is not content. He wants to be famous. He wants to be he gastronomic advisor to Caesar. In pursuit of this ambition he brings his household to Rome and builds a cooking school, installing Thrasius as the instructor. As Thrasius’ fame spreads, Apicius’ rival, Publius Octavius seeks to buy him from Apicius but Apicius won’t sell him. Octavius is the gastronomic advisor to Augustus Caesar, and Apicius’ refusal angers Caesar’s wife, Livia, not a person whose enmity you would want to court. (The author appears to be of the “Livia was a monster” school. This makes for dramatic historical fiction but was probably contrary to fact. If anything, Livia may have actually been a moderating influence on both Augustus and Tiberius. Tiberius certainly became far more vicious after she died.)

The infant, Apicata grows into a beautiful teenager, and, unfortunately she draws the attention of the ambitious Sajanus, a cousin of Aelia and a close friend of Augustus Caesar’s step-son and heir, Tiberius. Sejanus has damaging information on Apicius and he uses it to force him to give Apicata to him in marriage. I had read enough of Tacitus and Suetonius to realize that this story would not end well for Apicius and his family.

Feast of Sorrow is a fascinating story and well told.

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