Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
|Full synopsis at GoodReads|
1625. In the remote village of Buckland, a mob chants of witchcraft and John Sandall and his mother are running for their lives. Taking refuge among the trees of Buccla’s Wood, John’s mother opens her book and begins to tell her son of an ancient Feast kept in secret down the generations. But as the rich dishes rise from the pages, the ground beneath them freezes. That winter John’s mother dies.
This is very much a story in two parts. The first part looks back over John’s turbulent childhood and explores the persecution of those women that didn’t quite subscribe to established religion as “witches” (and the effect that persecution had on families and communities). The pace is slow but the detail makes it all worth it. John has an exceptional sense of smell and often recounts his experiences by reference to distinctive scents and aromas. The writing is fantastic and great to get lost in.
The pace picks up when John arrives at Buckland Manor and the shift works – he quickly gets embroiled in life in the vast kitchens and has to learn to develop relationships with his fellow kitchen-hands. Alongside the ancient recipes, the preparation of great feasts were my absolute favourite parts of the book; the hustle and bustle, the steaming vats of sauces, the sheer volume of ingredients and camaraderie of the kitchen. Brilliant.
I hoped it was a one off but found it happening with increasing frequency as I was nearing the end of John’s story and I got more and more frustrated about what I was sure I was missing out on. When the English Civil War starts and the people in the village are divided by Oliver Cromwell’s religious minions, there are some harrowing scenes that are reminiscent of the early chapters. Sadly, though, the detail was always short-lived and year long gaps were never far away. I suppose in a way it’s a testament to the early part of the novel that I wanted more from the later parts. A lot of potential but a faint whiff of disappointment tainting the end, unfortunately.
Date finished: 05 January 2013
Source: Received via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review
Genre: Historical fiction
Published (in the UK): by Bloomsbury Publishing Plc in September 2012