John Saturnall’s Feast: tasty Civil War drama with bonus paganism

Book cover: John Saturnall's FeastJohn Sandall the blackamoor’s son is born in 17th century Somerset, with a gift for recognising all the ingredients in a dish by taste or scent. As the country is gripped by religious fervour, he and his mother are driven out as witches. But John’s demon tastebuds make him the perfect cook. Taken in at the local Manor and trained in their kitchens, he must face down old enemies and new challenges as the country slides into Civil War.

It’s a leisurely journey of grace notes rather than high action and there’s little originality in what passes for the base plot, but what a delightful dish this is: historical food porn with a dash of romance and religion. John is a satisfyingly complex character, and I enjoyed the willful yet dutiful Lady Lucretia. Most of the supporting cast are stereotypes at best, particularly the antagonists (the cowardly drunk chevalier; the lustful lay preacher; the mean kitchen boy), but there is also an array of warm-hearted good folk (I had a particular soft spot for Josh Palewick).

My only beef would be the tired trope
SPOILER (mouse over to read)
of the commoner rescuing the lady from ravishment, and the traumatised lass promptly tumbling him in spite of her initial protestations

although at least the characters and relationships had been thoroughly set up in advance.

Not entirely what I expected, but thoroughly enjoyable and well-served.