Published by: Bloomsbury Publishing
ISBN 13: 9781408805961
Published: September 2012
Format reviewed: Hardcover
Site: Author Site
Goodreads: Book Page
Stars: Four out of Five
‘John Saturnall’s Feast’ by Lawrence Norfolk is a historical fiction set in 1625 and beyond, following the life of John Sandall. It begins when he’s a child, soon to be on the run as a small, religious town accesses his mother of witchcraft. She dies during the winter, and John is sent to a manor to work in the kitchens.
From there, John becomes one of the greatest cooks of the time, impressing even the King. Then the Civil War throws his life into chaos once more, and he has to learn to survive the battlefield long enough to return to his beloved kitchens, and the girl who resides above them.
This is a tale of seventeenth-century life, love, war and religion, written so well that it will capture you no matter your usual genre preference. This book is highly recommended.
The first thing that is to be noted about this book is the beautiful way it is presented. The hard cover edition is printed on lovely paper, with sections of the book divided by careful drawings and a recipe that will feature in that chapter. The cover is printed with thick, raised ink that display the foods John learns all about from his mother and then the kitchens afterwards; so detailed that you can spend a surprisingly long time just gazing at the front, then inside covers.
The characters are few and simple – John and those he interacts with in the village, and then the manor, and few others. Though it doesn’t dip greatly into their thoughts and feelings, or the backstory of anyone but John and the girl in the manor, still a great deal is known about them thanks to Norfolk’s elegant writing.
Norfolk has wound fact and fiction well, easily giving a feel for the time whilst still inserting his own fantasy. The changes we see in their world as time passes are intriguing, showing how even the smallest of villages are effected by war at that time.
The plot moves along at an easy and believable pace, showing the general worries and fears one would have had at that time – being picked out by the church, or freezing or starving during the winter.
This book is highly recommended, for anyone who enjoys historical fiction or simply loves an author who has an almost lyrical way with words.
This review was originally posted at SentientOnline on the 25th September 2012.