I can’t remember exactly when What Kings Ate floated past me, but given my love of both fantasy and historical foodstuffs I knew it was going to be a hit.
What to expect
A non-fiction that’s still light-hearted, both informative and entertaining. The author covers many aspects of food throughout history as a way to enhance both fantasy and historical fiction. Though primarily aimed at writers, it would appeal to readers of these genres too – to anyone who loves to know more about how humans lived in different periods. As an author who writes historical fantasy blends (or at least uses real history to greatly influence his fantasy worlds), I found this an excellent starter on the subject.
What I liked
I like the tone of the book, how the Ball managed to thread humour into it. This is obviously a well reserached work – not academic, but rather just the right balance to expose authors and readers to original sources. It’s as delightful as it is instructive.
I find that food is such an important aspect of storytelling and worldbuilding (it’s not a fetish, I swear), and I notice when it’s missing. I welcome any work that helps expand understanding and improves fantasy and historical fiction.
What to be aware of
The subject is vast, and naturally can’t be fully covered in a single volume. Ball focuses on medieval(ish) Britain as the most common fantasy background, and though she does include references to other periods and times they are not the focus.
Also, due to the scope, treat this as a starter. It should expose you to the concerns people had around food (which, let’s face it, is one of the prime drivers of history) throughout the ages. It is still up to the author to research their own chosen time period and region, and then to integrate it in a meaningful way to enhance their writing.
Felix sees nothing wrong with larks tongues in aspic, though he did get confused with references to Roman risotto and would like to point out that the bodily humours are related to but not the same as the four elements. (We think it’s an artefact of the editors trying to reign the author, rather than any fault on her part).
Highly recommended to anyone – reader or author – who notices food in fantasy and historical fiction, and is a tad over all taverns serving venison stew and all wilderness providing for roast rabbit dinners.