Nancy McKibben's Reviews > Cinnamon and Gunpowder

Cinnamon and Gunpowder by Eli Brown
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really liked it
bookshelves: historical-fiction, food-and-cooking, reviewed
Recommended for: readers who like pirates, the 1800s, cooking, and a good yarn

Cinnamon and Gunpowder
By Eli Brown

Pirate Queen Mad Hannah Mabbot murders a lord of the realm at his coastal estate. On a whim, she kidnaps his cook and takes him captive on her ship to cook for her on Sundays on pain of death, if he doesn’t come up with something delicious. It’s a premise that could go either way: silly romance or clever adventure story.

Happily, Cinnamon and Gunpowder sails in the direction of surprisingly good. I could almost believe that the author was himself a pirate, so convincing is his 1819 pirate world in all aspects: political, historical, nautical, culinary.

Chef Owen Wedgwood, a kind, but somewhat rigid man, is the narrator and protagonist. His self-deprecating narrative leaves us in no doubt: he is no romantic hero, but a middle-aged grump whose burning hope is to escape his predicament. But there is more to Owen; despite himself, he is intrigued by the challenge of creating a delicious meal weekly from the meager stores of the Flying Rose.

So part of the fun is to see what Owen can come up with. He is ingenious; for instance, concocting a dough starter so that he can bake bread. Unable to obtain fresh, potable water, he uses coconut water. His captor invites him to eat with her.
I had removed the fillet from the pan while it was still glassy in the middle and it had continued to cook by its own heat to a gentle flake. Between the opaque striations, wisps of fat clung to the crisp potato breading and resolved upon the tongue like the echo of a choir surrendering to silence. The saffron warmed all together as sunlight through stained glass blesses a congregation, while the shrimp save waved its harlot’s handkerchief from the periphery.

So, the chef is a poet in his own way. But even while we enjoy and applaud his efforts to make the best of his situation, we learn much more about the pirate queen and her crew. They take booty and deal out harsh justice, yes. But they are also trying to disable the British opium trade while tracking The Brass Fox (Hannah’s pirate son) and avoiding capture by an English privateer.

Our hero begins to find his black-and-white worldview shifting. Was his former employer, whom he once considered a perfect English gentleman, in reality a worse pirate than Mad Hannah?

Owen creates his weekly repasts between chases and battles and hunts for treasure. This is a lively book, but well-paced and thoughtful. And fun. Bravo to Eli Brown for having come up with the idea and having carried it off so well for his readers.


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Reading Progress

July 12, 2013 – Started Reading
July 12, 2013 – Finished Reading
July 13, 2013 – Shelved
July 13, 2013 – Shelved as: historical-fiction
July 13, 2013 – Shelved as: food-and-cooking
July 13, 2013 – Shelved as: reviewed

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