This book was highly recommended to me by a friend who must average reading at least 3 books per week, so I knew it had to be a worthwhile read. And it was, provided you are into hysterical fiction with a touch of the bodice ripper.
Being a bit of an English history buff myself (who isn’t, if they did Social Studies in the ‘fifties and ‘sixties?), I found some of the so-called history a little wonky, for example, the banning of Christmas celebrations in Cromwellian times, but hey, it does add some grit to the story. I feel Oliver is getting worse press than he deserves. As I was reading some of the juicier bits on the bus, I felt the need to bring the covers a little closer in case I should scandalise the young lady sitting beside me.
John Sandall (who renames himself Saturnall after Roman mythical times) loses his mother to illness when they are driven from their home to live roughly, by a mob crying “witchcraft”. She directs him to a grand manor house through a local clergyman, and here he solves the mystery of her previous life and the “Book” which she schools him in as they while away the weeks of their exile. .
So involved is the plot and so light on character development, that it was difficult to distinguish one kitchen knave from another. Any time I felt thoroughly confused, a mouth-watering description of a culinary masterpiece had me saying all was forgiven and encouraged me to read on. I don’t recall why the Master Cook, whom John replaced, disappeared suddenly from the scene. He had to go for the sake of the plot and allow John to capitalise on his culinary and olfactory talents, but can anyone tell me the reason?
The book relies on several well-worn themes. Myth and legend mix with upstairs and downstairs intrigue. There are villains and a strong heroine. The story moves from kitchen to battlefield to bedchamber. In short, there is something to please everyone.
I had not previously heard of the author, Lawrence Norfolk, but after this rollicking read, I will attempt to source some of his earlier works from the local library.