he village of Buckland. A boy and his mother run for their lives. Behind them a mob chants of witchcraft. Taking refuge among the trees of Buccla’s Wood, the mother opens her book and tells her son of an ancient Feast kept in secret down the generations. But as exquisite dishes rise from the page, the ground beneath them freezes. That winter, the boy’s mother dies.
Taken to Buckland Manor, John Sandall is put to work in the house’s vast subterranean kitchens where his talent raises him from the scullery to the great house above. A complex dish served to King Charles brings him before Lady Lucretia Fremantle, the headstrong daughter of the house. He must tempt her from her fast. But both encounters will imperil him. As the Civil War begins and the New Order’s fanatical soldiers march, John and Lucretia are thrown together into a passionate struggle for survival. To keep all he holds most dear, John must realise his mother’s vision. He must serve the Saturnall Feast.
An astounding work of historical fiction, John Saturnall's Feast charts the course of one man's life from steaming kitchens to illicit bedchambers, through battlefields and ancient magical woods. Expertly weaving fact with myth, Lawrence Norfolk creates a rich, complex and mesmerising story of seventeenth-century life, love and war.
I've known about this book - the first from Lawrence Norfolk in some twelve years - for a couple of months and have been greatly looking forward to reading it because of that very rich and potent subject matter outlined above.
My proof arrived wrapped in black tissue paper and most imaginatively accompanied by a bundle of cinnamon sticks, another one forming the package's seal (see top picture), a reference to the culinary elements of the novel as each part of the book is prefaced by a recipe from The Book of John Saturnall (1681).
If you go the book's website, Let the Feast begin, you can find out about pre-publication events and more, but as to the text itself, after only a page or two I am enthralled; here's a short extract about the young John and his gift:
"He looked up at the dark line of trees and breathed in slowly, smelling wild garlic, mulched leaves, a fox den somewhere and a sweeter scent. Fruit blossom, he thought. Then that small mystery was eclipsed by a larger one. A stranger scent hid among the blossom, sweet and resinous at once. Lilies, John thought, drawing the scent deeper. Lilies mixed with pitch.
'What're you sniffing at now?' his mother asked with a smile.
He smiled back. He had a demon in his throat, she said. A demon who knew every smell in Creation. Breathing in the sharp saps and sweet blossoms, he felt them anchor themselves within him, their invisible trails fanning out around him. But here was a smell his demon had never met before. He looked up at the trees of Buccla's Wood ...."
Edited to add: I have now read this quite marvellous book; my post on it is here.