Published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux on 4th June 2013
Genres: Adult, Historical Fantasy
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A gripping adventure, a seaborne romance, and a twist on the tale of Scheherazade—with the best food ever served aboard a pirate’s ship
The year is 1819, and the renowned chef Owen Wedgwood has been kidnapped by the ruthless pirate Mad Hannah Mabbot. He will be spared, she tells him, as long as he puts exquisite food in front of her every Sunday without fail.
To appease the red-haired captain, Wedgwood gets cracking with the meager supplies on board. His first triumph at sea is actual bread, made from a sourdough starter that he leavens in a tin under his shirt throughout a roaring battle, as men are cutlassed all around him. Soon he’s making tea-smoked eel and brewing pineapple-banana cider.
But Mabbot—who exerts a curious draw on the chef—is under siege. Hunted by a deadly privateer and plagued by a saboteur hidden on her ship, she pushes her crew past exhaustion in her search for the notorious Brass Fox. As Wedgwood begins to sense a method to Mabbot’s madness, he must rely on the bizarre crewmembers he once feared: Mr. Apples, the fearsome giant who loves to knit; Feng and Bai, martial arts masters sworn to defend their captain; and Joshua, the deaf cabin boy who becomes the son Wedgwood never had.
Cinnamon and Gunpowder is a swashbuckling epicure’s adventure simmered over a surprisingly touching love story—with a dash of the strangest, most delightful cookbook never written. Eli Brown has crafted a uniquely entertaining novel full of adventure: the Scheherazade story turned on its head, at sea, with food.
I described this book to my mother. “It’s about a chef who gets kidnapped by pirates. He has to cook a gourmet meal for the pirate captain once a week. And this pirate captain, mom, she is AWESOME!”
My mom smiled knowingly, “Oh. And then they start getting it on like rabbits!”
I faltered for a moment, stalling while trying to explain. “No! It’s not a romance-romance. I mean, they do develop a relationship but it’s…not a focus in the novel.”
My mom seemed to understand, giving a confident nod. “So how does a teenager become a pirate captain?”
My brain stalled again. “No, um, the chef and Mabbot are middle-aged.”
This time, it was my mother was the confused one. “What are you doing reading this?”
She has a point. This isn’t my usual blog-reading fair. Not romance and no teens? Yet as soon as I saw this book on the publishing line up, I couldn’t resist getting it and I’m so glad I did.
This book was amazing. No-holds-barred, completely fantastic. I loved every minute of it.
No detail is spared and the level of research used in this novel is astounding. Obviously the biggest fascination for me was the seemingly-insurmountable task Wedge is faced with once a week. Preparing a gourmet meal on a pirate ship where food is scarce, basic and the kitchen rudimentary at best. Yet Wedge is a genius and his resourcefulness both in cooking and trying to escape was more than admirable. It was fascinating!
But obviously the biggest draw for me was the construction of the characters. Wedge, a pudgy, middle-aged, chef pitched against Mad Hannah Mabbot. She’s brilliant, fiery, passionate, endlessly-capable, fierce, blazing, outlandish, charismatic. If you can tell I loved her, good. Kids, when I grow up, I want to BE The Shark of the Indian Ocean, Mad Hannah Mabbot, Back-from-the-dead Red. I seriously need to start working on a badass pirate name like that. The journey they go through as Captain Mabbot chases The Fox, the King of Thieves, and evades the grimly determined Laroche while aiming to bring down the Pendleton Trading company is action packed, blood-soaked and utterly enthralling.
The writing is detailed and so incredibly nuanced. Wedge’s personality shines from every page as the fussy, prudish, cooking-obsessed Catholic man who has the world and his Regency-era appropriations torn down around him. The result is a much better person. Don’t be deceived. There are no alpha-males with rippling muscles, or chest-heaving women needing to be saved. Captain Mabbot would kick an alpha male in the teeth, tie him over a churning ocean and laugh madly while she robbed him blind. Wedge can only really beat a steak into submission, but he’s smart and passionate and lovely. Eli Brown has given me everything I wanted in a novel. A diverse cast, a delightful, realistic break from traditional gender roles and a gratingly beautiful human touch.
This book eats lesser pirate tropes for breakfast. Respect it’s authoritah or Captain Mabbot will have you keel-hauled.