“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.” – Library Journal, starred review
The first order of the day is to send a big, heartfelt CONGRATULATIONS to our very own Crystal King on the release of her debut novel FEAST OF SORROW! Being a Deb is the gift that keeps on giving, mostly because of the opportunity to become friends with wonderful women writers; getting to know Crystal has been a true pleasure and a highlight of my debut year. And her book is a wow, must-read, page-turning, epic tale of love, culinary delight and invention, wealth, and power.
In honor of her launch week, Crystal, whose novel is set in Ancient Rome, has asked us to express our thoughts on how historical fiction has shaped us as readers and writers.
When I was a teenager — speaking of ancient history — I was given the novel KATHERINE, written by Anya Seton, and I immediately fell in love with the characters in this book. Seton does a spectacular job placing this love affair in 14th Century England, and I became completely obsessed with Katherine and John of Gaunt. I still love this book, and it was certainly one of the reasons I became an avid reader. My enjoyment of KATHERINE as a kid also got me thinking that I might like to become a writer someday.
I have so much respect and admiration for writers of historical fiction. And I simply cannot imagine the amount of work that went into Crystal’s book; she expertly describes places and people in such a way that the reader is transported to Ancient Rome. It is MOST impressive. And for people like me who adore reading historical fiction, her book is such a treat, a totally absorbing story that entertains, instructs, and gives one an authentic experience of life in Ancient Rome. One of the reasons I am so in awe of Crystal’s novel is because I’m so spectacularly bad at grasping and remembering accurate details and historical facts, which is why Crystal writes historical fiction and I do not. Way too much homework for me! (Honestly, I’m only able to go back in time as far as, like, 1983 and even then, I’m not entirely sure of the details.) I could never do what Crystal has mastered in her well-researched novel FEAST OF SORROW. Can you imagine works of historical fiction without the hours and hours of research?? Without her depth of knowledge and numerous details on all matters to do with cooking and Ancient Rome, her book would read something like this:
Passia strapped on her J Crew gladiator sandals, arranged her hair up in a scrunchy, and ran to the market to find Thrasius. He had left his wallet on the bedside table and would get in big trouble if he didn’t come home with all the ingredients he needed to prepare the meal his master had requested for the big shindig that night. If only cell phones had been invented but – bummer! – not for another decade… or perhaps more. Not entirely sure.
She spotted Thrasius in the crowded marketplace that was filled with, let’s assume, men, women, and children as they went about the business of their time, which is to say, they were doing the things that people used to do back then: You know, like walking, talking, and maybe bartering things for other things or paying with a chicken or something resembling coins or maybe using some early version of Venmo, how should I know. In any case, consumer goods were being acquired, one way or the other.
“Hey babe,” Thrasius said as Passia grabbed him by the toga sleeve.
“Hey yourself. Look what you forgot, goofball,” and she handed him his wallet.
“Jesus Christ, I’m forgetful as fuck,” he said, as he tucked the wallet in the back pocket of his jeans… that he wore underneath his toga. “Last week it was the Fiat keys. What would I do without you?” he asked.
“You’d probably get a whooping from the master, in the form that, you know, such whoopings take place in our day. Know what I mean?”
“I sure do,” he said, remembering previous whoopings. “Ouch,” he laughed.
“Whatcha’ cooking for the dinner party?” she asked.
“A meal made from ingredients available to people like us living in this particular place and time,” he said and gestured to said ingredients that were out there somewhere, probably on an Elfa rack, but made of twigs.
Passia winked at him, knowing exactly the meal he had in mind; It would certainly be something. She high-fived him, grabbed a shopping cart, and they wandered together into the air conditioned Whole Foods.
See! This is why we leave the writing of historical fiction to Crystal King. Unlike in the disastrous version above, Crystal gives us all the glorious details that enrich her story, make us understand the relationships among her characters, teach a vocabulary particular to the time, convey historical facts, and give us a true sense of what life was like in Ancient Rome.
I take my hat off to you, Crystal! Because of you, by Jove, I now know the meaning and significance of such things as a cena, papyrus scrolls, effigies, offerings at temples, Saturnalia, sow vulva, denarii, coquus, garum, tunics vs. togas, entrails, lashings, gustatio, and, of course, cabbage as a form of hangover prevention (although the jury is still out on that one). Thank you, Crystal! And congratulations!
If you haven’t already, strap on your sandals and rush to the store to buy FEAST OF SORROW right away. It’s a fabulous book, and you don’t have to take my word for it:
“In her addictively readable first novel . . . the food lore is fascinating and the time period is inherently dramatic . . . .[A]ficionados of all things SPQR will eat this up.” (Kirkus Reviews)
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