My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This book took considerably longer than I expected to finish. Not because it wasn’t good (it most definitely is a good book), but because of the complexity in it. In brief, this a traditional pirate story told from a non-traditional perspective. We follow the experiences of one Owen Wedgwood, chef, from the point of his capture by the Mad Hannah Mabbott, a red-headed sea wench of a pirate who has only two goals: vengeance and to capture the Brass Fox, an equally as notorious pirate.
Through Wedgwood’s eyes, we learn about the duplicitous nature of not the pirate world, but the world of the Pendleton Trading Company, run by one Lord Ramsey, the late former employer of the protagonist. Wedgwood must cook for the pirate queen Mabbott once a week or else die in whatever horrible way only pirate minds can think up.
As the story progresses, Owen’s views on what is right and what is righteous began to shift to match his shifting loyalties as his relationship with Mad Mabbott and the rest of the crew change from captor and captive to companions and more.
It is an excellent read and has a great lesson about not judging simply based on the reputations heard from others, but it was more difficult than I had anticipated.
For one thing, though I greatly enjoy cooking, I am not now, nor will I ever be a chef. As such, I was already at a bit of a disadvantage because the main character knows his craft so well. Wedgwood describes in detail various techniques as he literally cooks for his life. He uses spices and ingredients with which I am not familiar, and I found myself spending quite a bit of time Googling various animals or spices so that I could get a better sense of what he was cooking.
Add to that my absolute lack of knowledge about ships and pirating, and you may understand why I struggled with this one. For someone who knows more about either cooking or pirating, I imagine it wouldn’t take half the time it took me to read. Everything was written in such great detail that I had trouble putting the story down, except for when I had to stop to search up a term. I would find myself frustrated by my own naivety hindering my progress to the point where I would have to walk away from the book, only to get pre-occupied with “real life” to the point of forgetting where I was in the story and then would have to backtrack. All of which was the fault of my own ignorance and not of the storytelling itself.
As for the interaction between characters, it was very interesting. With a narrator so colored by prejudice against his captors, it was a real joy to watch him realize his mistaken ideas about certain people, and reading how he spoke to or the surprise with which he witnessed certain events really helped to shape who he was as a character without getting an outside view of him. I think the first person POV was really well done with this one! I’ve already recommended it to a former student of mine who I know can handle the intense vocabulary, as well as to a few friends of mine who prefer historical fiction.
I see why it was named an NPR book of the year.
My movie reviews tend to discuss whether or not a movie makes for a good date movie. Obviously, a book review cannot be on the same scale. It can, however, be on a scale of how good the relationship building in the story is, and this one gets those 4 out of 5 stars mostly because of how well the relationships are built. We get a thorough understanding of how Wedgwood views his captors and we see, even before he does, his growing sense of intimacy or camaraderie with the crew of the Rose.
I wish it was as easy to read me in real life as it was to read Owen Wedgwood in this book.
I do feel the end was a bit rushed. Primarily for that reason, I cannot give it a full 5 stars.