CINNAMON AND GUNPOWDER by Eli Brown
Updated: Jun 21
I found this book after looking for books that seemed somewhat similar to The 13 1/2 Lives of Captain Bluebear. Cinnamon and Gunpowder was described as "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." I decided that sounded interesting (pirates and food don't normally go together, after all) and picked up a copy.
I'm really glad I did. I didn't like it as much as Captain Bluebear, but it was a solid story that I enjoyed very much. While historical fiction isn't usually my cup of tea, this one was interesting and wasn't in-your-face about its historical-ness. In fact, a lot of the book was not, in fact, historical. It was fantasy things playing off of real-life historical events, such as the opium trade in China and the slave trade in Africa.
This book is written in diary entries by the main character to inform whoever reads it about his life aboard the famous pirate ship the Flying Rose.
I feel that it needs to be pointed out immediately that this story is written from the point of view of a European, Christian, white man. Because of this and the time period, there ARE some sexist, racist, ableist, homophobic, etc. comments. However, this is partly to show the popular viewpoints of the time and also to show how the main character changes throughout the novel. He does learn and grow and leaves some of his prejudices and biases behind as the book progresses.
If these things bother you, you need to be prepared if you are planning on reading this book.
That all being said, I think the plot is really intriguing. It is basically the journey of a man learning that his employer, who he thought was an upstanding person, is actually involved in the opium and slave trade. Owen, the main character, is surprisingly ignorant of the world around him before he is kidnapped by pirates and shown the real state of the world. In a twist of what you would usually think, it's the pirates that are actually the good guys in this story. It takes a while for Owen to understand that though.
Owen Wedgewood: Owen is the main character and through which the entire story is told from. Because we have only his view, we see things quite skewed at first. Owen only seems interested in food (he is a cook) and serving his lord, Lord Ramsey. Once he is kidnapped by Captain Mabbot and her entourage of interesting pirates he is given a swift dose of reality. We see through his journal entries as his opinions change and mature as he is forced more and more into the dirty, dark side of reality. Owen is a genius cook, a master in his craft, but he is painfully uninformed when it comes to basically anything else.
Hannah Mabbot: Referred to as "Mad Hannah Mabbot," Hannah is the captain of the Flying Rose and the kidnapper of Owen. She is sassy, blunt, and fierce. She is doggedly loyal to her cause and doesn't mind getting dirty to meet her goals. But she shows a soft side to Owen, as she realizes that Owen needs a kind of teacher to inform him about the state of the world. Hannah seems to collect people that need her help, such as Mr. Apples, the not-so-gentle giant that likes to knit, Feng and Bai, the twin martial arts experts, and Joshua, the mute and deaf cabinboy. Owen is one of those people, though he does not realize it at first.
The pace of this book can be kind of slow, I will admit. However, I feel like it was paced well. It's just a slower book. That's not to say there's no action, because there definitely is. The book starts out with a murder and a kidnapping, after all. I will say the ending is jam-packed though!
While I didn't like it as much as Captain Bluebear, I still really liked this book. I think the reason why it wasn't a five star for me is because it's historical fiction. That's just not usually my cup of tea, and I think that is reflected in my final rating of the book. However, if you like historical fiction, pirates, and interesting food, this book will probably interest you!
Tell the devil to keep my tea hot. I'm running late.
...though the world is full of knives and storms, the body is built for kindness.