Alibi V.22 No.30 • July 25-31, 2013 

Book Review

It’ll Make You Beg for Seconds

Cinnamon and Gunpowder

Eli Brown
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
fiction
$26

Some days call for a well-written book that will never ask a reader to use even a single brain cell on complex ideas. Eli Brown’s Cinnamon and Gunpowder is that kind of book. It will lead you through a powerful and fast-paced story but never once ask you to think.

Owen Wedgewood is a renowned chef for one of the lords of the Pendleton Tea Company, but when he’s kidnapped by the infamous pirate Mad Mabbot, he’s given a choice: Make Mabbot an exquisite meal every Sunday, or die. A delicious weekly meal on a pirate ship with a poorly stocked pantry is a harder task than you might imagine.

Author Eli Brown on Cinnamon and Gunpowder

However, it will make you hungry.

The book is food porn at its finest. Brown describes creative dishes so well that the scents practically roll off the pages: Tea-smoked eel, pineapple-banana cider and braised squab with chocolate mole are a few of my favorites.

Meanwhile, Mabbot, the dangerous, fiery-haired female captain of the Flying Rose, is hunting the king of thieves while simultaneously trying to stem the flow of opium and slaves from China.

Oh, is that all?

Brown romanticizes life on the sea while still keeping the reality of such a lifestyle intact. The pirates dance and sing—the first mate, Mr. Apples, even knits—but the high price of life on the seas, and of being among criminals, is never minimized.

My only complaint, and it’s a small one, is that the novel includes a love story. Don’t get me wrong—I enjoy a nice romance now and then—but nowadays it seems like I can’t open a book without tripping over sappy overtures and heartfelt poetics. Sometimes I just want my explosions and swashbuckling without a pledge of undying affection.

Warm-fuzzies aside, Cinnamon and Gunpowder is a thrilling adventure that’s also a light read. Its perfect mixture of classic piracy and food snobbery left me wondering when the next Brown novel would hit the shelves.