Cinnamon and Gunpowder – the perfect pairing to accompany any feast aboard a pirate ship. This is the story of a red-headed she-pirate in the early nineteenth century who takes a gentle cook hostage after killing his employer. Her demand is simple: cook a divine meal for her once per week, and he may keep his life as long as she is satisfied.
The story is told in diary format and begins at a dinner party held by Lord Ramsey, owner of the Pendleton Trading Company. Owen Wedgwood, the cook and narrator of our story, is in the kitchen with his crew when he hears a scuffle. Peaking his head out into the hall, he sees the dreaded Pirate Mabbot and her entourage enter the home and kill Lord Ramsey. After Mabbot samples the food that had been left on the table, she decides to take the chef as her prize.
On board The Rose, Owen is sure he will be executed at some point – possibly for fun or sport. But Mabbot has other plans. She tells him that he will be unharmed if he prepares an exquisite meal for her each Sunday. He has little choice but to accept.
“I am lost at sea. I have a single fish with which to preserve my life.”
Through the duration of his trials, he learns about Mabbot and the people who serve on her ship. From tidbits of information gleaned from dinner conversation, he discovers her role as a pirate and her beef with the opium trade and Pendleton’s involvement. He makes friends with cabin boy Joshua who is deaf and discovers how he came to serve Mabbot. And the brutish twins who act as her personal bodyguards had a breathless story that explained their devotion and loyalty. It isn’t long before Owen begins to question which side of the line he should be on.
In between Owen’s conflicted thoughts, there’s plenty of nautical action on the high seas. Battles are waged as ships position themselves for broadside strikes, swashbuckling and rope-climbing crewmen swing from the ropes, failed escape attempts, harsh punishments for rule violations such as the terrifying sentence of “theater paint” (an affectionate term for a rather gruesome death), and a search for the mysterious Fox who is Mabbot’s greatest prize.
“I tremble to witness the end of this bloody story. He has been nothing but trouble for me, and any man who could so enslave Mabbot’s mind must be a monster, indeed. I cannot help but breathe the heathen vapors here and find myself racked with an unholy anxiety – a premonition – that we shall indeed find the Fox waiting for us, just where he promised, and somehow, at that moment, I shall be lost for good. His words haunt me: “We never go home again.””
And of course – there is the food. Chef Owen Wedgwood has a passion for food. For him, cooking is poetry.It is spiritual and philosophical. He thinks in shades of spice. Unfortunately, his newly inherited galley is lacking in just about every capacity, and so are their stores. And so the weeks pass as Owen uses every inch of creativity to deliver a masterpiece.
I enjoyed every part of this book including the gender role swap, but I was especially keen on the descriptions of his culinary creations. I found myself looking toward these sections more and more, wondering what he would bring to Mabbot next. It’s the perfect book for any foodie, complete with a lot of side action. The character development of Mabbot is gradual, the perfect pace for a slow reveal of true intentions.
“By her tenacity, one would guess the captain intends to drive us to the tattered edge of the map. She is her own planet moving on a stubborn mission against the sweep of order.”
Cinnamon and Gunpowder is food for the soul. But don’t read it on an empty stomach. This one will get your stomach rumbling for exquisite cuisine.