Eli Brown's Cinnamon and Gunpowder is 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.
An NPR Best Book of the Year (2013)
Brown's second novel follows up his prize-winning The Great Days with an early 19th-century tale of culinary seduction and swashbuckling antics, featuring characters who evoke the desperate ingenuity of Scheherazade and the hell-bent ruthlessness of Ahab. Owen Wedgwood is complacently preparing meals on the English seaside for a tea baron before the first Opium War, until the pirate Mad Hannah Mabbot braves a mission under the noses of bounty hunters and the Royal Navy to assassinate Wedgwood's pirate-hunting boss. With Wedgwood held captive as Mabbot's personal chef, Brown explores the mysteries of flavor with prose that any word-savoring foodie will delight in. Wedgwood gains our sympathy as he triumphs under the meager circumstances of a pirate's galley, keeping himself alive with his cooking, but the book bogs down in handwringing over being party to villainy; diary entries give the chef's delayed capitulation to the pirate's life too much space. The story, the characters, and the ingenious battle scenes are far too colorful for moral dilemmas, which are made irrelevant when Mabbot is revealed as something of a humanitarian out to reset the wrongs of British imperialism.
Cinnamon and Gunpowder
A captivating and fun read with a message about individuals making a difference against corporate behemoths plundering the world.
Couldn't Put it Down...humor, suspense, violence, sex, food...LOVED IT!
I had no expectations of this novel, and wasn't really sure what the story was about...but once I started it I fell in love with the characters and the plot twists. Often things are not as simple as they appear. A great "swashbuckling" tale!
Great foodie pirate adventure
So delightful! Could not put this down. Writing was beautiful, the story clever, and the dishes delicious. Like nothing I've ever read before. Definitely the most unique and memorable book I've read in quite some time. Time well spent.