Reviews for Uhtred's feast

Kirkus
Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Three new stories about Uhtred, protagonist of Cornwell’s Last Kingdom series, each preceded by historical background material and followed by recipes. Uhtred of Bebbanburg looks back as an old man on some of his adventures in the ninth century as Englaland went through its “long and brutal” coalescence into the kingdom of England. At age 8, Uhtred is already hearing his father tell him he is useless if he cannot fight. But the wee lad must also trap eels from the local creek, because his father loves to eat them. When the child is ambushed and robbed of his catch by other children, he must fight his enemy with a wooden sword. The stories are light on plot, serving mostly as vehicles to show what people ate. Cornwell and his collaborator, Suzanne Pollak, who crafted the recipes based on Anglo-Saxon fare, clearly enjoyed themselves researching and writing this unusual hybrid of history, fiction, and cookbook. Pork chops with apples sounds tasty, but do you really, really want a two-page recipe for eel pie? Or for fermented shredded turnip? The historical background chapters offer plenty of interesting nuggets; for example, the fact that people generally drank ale because it was safer than water. Few characters other than Uhtred get much development, but his pungent narration offers plenty of meat. By the time of his reminiscences, he has long since become a confirmed pagan, but he recalls that as a boy he was “scared into a belief in the nailed god because [he] knew no better.” Asked at one point if King Alfred should be declared a saint, he sardonically replies that “as a young man Alfred went through the kitchen maids like a hot seax through butter! He even had a bastard son by one of them”—Uhtred himself. The concept of showing what people ate a thousand years ago is appealing, but adding detailed recipes (for example, “Preheat the oven to 220C/425F/gas 7” to roast fennel just right) would seem to limit the book’s audience drastically. The stories themselves need to be more eventful and provide greater challenges for Uhtred; the historical background would work better if it were woven into the fiction rather than unloaded in stand-alone sections. That said, Cornwell’s prose is a pleasure to read, and the food facts are fun. An enjoyable experiment that almost works. Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.


Book list
From Booklist, Copyright © American Library Association. Used with permission.

Cornwell’s Last Kingdom series, which chronicles the birth of England a thousand years ago and centers around Cornwell’s distant ancestor, Uhtred of Bebbanburg, is well known among fans of historical fiction. Though the series concluded with 2020’s War Lord, this absolutely fascinating new book—part cookbook, part short stories, part history lesson—ties up its loose ends. The recipes, devised by chef Suzanne Pollak, are based on the actual food Uhtred’s people might have eaten, and are to be prepared in the way they might have prepared it. (Got a “slug of fat” on hand?) Short fiction about Uhtred adds details to the character’s life story. And an illuminating history of Uhtred’s people is interwoven with background about Cornwell’s popular series of novels. Cornwell is a fine storyteller, and this rich, beautifully written book is a guaranteed must-read for his legion of fans.

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