Avast, ye scurvy landlubbers! If ye be keeping an eye on the horizon for a new piece of reading material for your time in the crow’s nest, this scoundrel has a recommendation: Eli Brown’s Cinnamon and Gunpowder.
I cannot tell you how much fun I’ve had reading it (and I literally finished it, like, one hour ago). And, after trying to explain it to my mom, I’ve come up with the super short summary: Food Network’s Chopped meets Pirates of the Caribbean.
Intrigued? How about the details.
Owen Wedgwood is chef to a wealthy English lord (who also happens to help run a giant trading company that deals with tea/opium trade to China). And then, one day, before everyone at the party can taste his yummy food, the pirates strike. Mad Hannah Mabbot (with a mane of crazy red curly hair) is the scourge of the Pendleton Trading Company (PTC), and she only disrupts dinner when she aims her gun at Owen’s boss and says, “Tell the devil to keep my tea hot. I’m running late,” before she shoots him. After tasting Owen’s offerings, Mabbot decides to spare the chef’s life on the condition that he’s taken captive on her ship.
Oh, and that every Sunday he makes her a delicious meal that, if it pleases her, will become his pass for another week of living.
If you think you’ve heard something like this before, you are probably thinking of the Arabian Nights, which is what all the reviews I read of it said. Sure, Owen’s kind of a culinary Scheherazade in that he cooks to keep himself alive. But that doesn’t mean that the book is entirely about the food.
As I said at the beginning, it’s Chopped meets Pirates, and it’s a whole lot of fun. The narrative is through Owen’s diary, so while he gets occasionally frustrating, you forgive him because he is, after all, only a chef.
And even if Owen has moments of “Ugh, why is he narrating?” he makes up for it by describing the other members of the crew. Like Mr. Apples, the first mate who knits and keeps scorpions as pets. And he also has some pretty hilarious dialogue. (“Whistlin’ donkey” is one of his first moments, and they only get better. And better.) There are crazy awesome Chinese twins (Feng and Bai) who knock sense into Owen without even trying. There’s Joshua, the sweet deaf and mute teenager who joins Mabbot’s crew to find his fortunes. And there are more, but you have to read to meet them.
So what happens when Own joins Mad Mabbot’s crew on the seven seas? Well, they’re being hunted by LaRoche, the Frenchman with a thing about killing Mabbot because she ruined his chance to be financially backed by the PTC. Meanwhile, Mabbot is hunting the illustrious Brass Fox, another pirate who’s interrupting the PTC’s trade routes while working on an agenda of his own.
My only gripe with this book is that it’s set in 1819, and the Golden Age of Piracy was pretty much 1600s-1700s. So chronologically, it might be a little off, but frankly, that’s a small think to nitpick in a novel so wonderfully full of swashbuckling and honeybaked eel…
Are you convinced yet? No?
Then there is nothing more I can say, except that you really should be convinced. Because it’s a hoot, it’s so much fun, and it’ll make you want to watch every pirate movie ever made a million times over.
And let me conclude by saying this: High Rise, which is already in production, cannot possibly be as good a movie (and is not, quite frankly, as fun a book) as Cinnamon and Gunpowder would be (and is).
In conclusion, here’s what you’ll look like when you pick up a copy of Brown’s book at your local independent bookstore: