Review: A Thousand Recipes for Revenge by Beth Cato

Review: A Thousand Recipes for Revenge by Beth CatoA Thousand Recipes for Revenge by Beth Cato
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: epic fantasy, fantasy, historical fantasy
Series: Chefs of the Five Gods #1
Pages: 411
Published by 47North on June 13, 2023
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleBookshop.orgBetter World Books

A world on the brink of war and a mother and daughter on the run, in a thrilling novel of swashbuckling adventure, culinary magic, and just desserts.
Adamantine “Ada” Garland has an empathic connection to food and wine, a magical perception of aromas, flavors, and ingredients. Invaluable property of the royal court, Ada was in service to the Five Gods and to the Gods-ordained rulers of Verdania—until she had enough of injustice and bloodshed and deserted, seeking to chart her own destiny. When mysterious assassins ferret her out after sixteen years in hiding, Ada, now a rogue Chef, and her beloved Grand-mère run for their lives, only to find themselves on a path toward an unexpected ally.
A foreign princess in a strange court, Solenn unknowingly shares more with Ada than an epicurean gift. They share blood. With her newfound magical perception, she becomes aware of a plot to kill her fiancé, the prince. It’s part of a ploy by adversarial forces in the rival country of Albion to sow conflict, and Solenn is set up to take the blame.
As Ada’s and Solenn’s paths converge, a mother and her long-lost daughter reunite toward a common goal, and against a shadowy enemy from Ada’s past who is out for revenge. But what sacrifices must be made? What hope is there when powerful Gods pick sides in a war simmering to eruption?

My Review:

There are a thousand quotes about revenge and most of them are not kind to the person seeking it. But it’s possible that the one in the world of these particular five gods is the most bitter, literally and figuratively. “There are a thousand recipes for revenge, and they all taste like scat.”

In other words, revenge tastes like shit. In a world where the ability to perceive and even enhance the qualities of every single thing a person might eat or drink is the highest form of magic, that has to be one of its world’s greatest curses.

And a warning that entirely too many people have refused to heed in this fantastic story that has only just begun.

At first, we’re following two women who don’t seem to have much to do with each other. And even though we don’t know it yet, someone’s revenge has reached out, seemingly from beyond the grave, to do its best to turn both their lives into shit.

Or perhaps something a bit worse but surprisingly edible – even if it really, really shouldn’t be. Which is where this world’s magic comes in.

Ada Garland is one of the chefs blessed by Gyst, the God of Mysteries and Unknowns. Her tongue is literally magic. She can tell whether something is clean or polluted, poisonous or just badly prepared, too salty, too sweet, or perfectly balanced. Her magic allows her to make the dish that a person wants and needs most in that moment – and do it perfectly every time.

And she has the power to turn certain special ingredients, called epicurea, into magical items that will pass their magic on to whoever eats them.

It’s a gift and a curse at the same time, as all blessed chefs in her country are automatically conscripted into the royal service the moment their talents manifest. It’s a service that led Ada to her husband and their child. And it’s a service that split them apart when the alliance between their countries dissolved.

Ada is on the run, and has been for over a decade, taking care of her increasingly unstable grandmother while avoiding the grasping, greedy mother who wants to use her and her talent for ends that are even more unsavory than Ada first believed.

The revenge that reaches out for Ada, her friends and her family threatens to expose all of her secrets – and theirs. If it doesn’t get them all killed first. Or worse. Much, much worse.

Escape Rating A+: I picked this up because I was looking for something else with magical cookery after The Nameless Restaurant. Both stories do feature cookery as Magic with a Capital “M”, but that is the only thing they have in common. I’m still grateful for the push from the one to the other, because A Thousand Recipes for Revenge is just plain awesome and I’m so glad I read it, even if it is making me give the side-eye to pretty much everything I eat.

The magic system here is both fascinating and unsettling at the same time, because it’s all wrapped around magical foods, the ability to create them and the ability to taste them. This is a world where many people can cook, and unsurprisingly so or everyone would starve, but where it takes a gift from the actual gods to be a chef. But the silver lining of that gift comes with plenty of cloud wrapped around it, as both Ada and Princess Solenn discover to their cost.

This is also definitely one of those stories about being better off – or at least sleeping better at night – if one did not know how the sausage was made. It’s a secret that has been brutally suppressed in this world for excellent if entirely terrible reasons.

At first, this seems like a rather typical military type, gaslamp set fantasy. Ada is AWOL from her military service, while our second perspective on this story, Princess Solenn, is in the midst of being married off for a political alliance.

But then Ada’s old comrades start getting killed, Ada’s hidden existence is suddenly under threat, and it seems like she’s on the run from awful but otherwise mundane forces. Until things go completely pear-shaped and the gods start getting involved. At which point it’s off to the races – against time, against death, against the forces of oppression and most especially against petulant beings who would rather play with their food than either nurture it, treat it as a pet or kill it as prey.

And then things get really complicated.

I thought I knew where this was going. And then I thought I knew where this was going. But it didn’t go any of the places I thought it would, but where it did end up was both head spinning and stomach churning as well as a tremendous tease because there had to be more and at first I didn’t realize there was, but there is and oh thank goodness!

Ada and Solenn give readers two heroines to route for, as this is both Ada’s story of picking up the pieces of the life she left behind and Solenn’s coming of age story and both are fantastic. The world’s setup at first seems fairly standard epic fantasy and then goes to places that are fresh (if occasionally rotting) and new and unexpected. There are bits of Bujold’s World of the Five Gods and Jenn Lyons’ A Chorus of Dragons in the way that the gods of this world operate, as well as Guy Gavriel Kay’s and Jacqueline Carey‘s use of real world geography and history as a way of creating a fantasy world’s map and political divisions, but the magic system is just completely off a new wall and it’s marvelous in the way it suffuses the story.

Which, as I squeed earlier, thankfully isn’t done yet. There’s a second book in the Chefs of the Five Gods series, A Feast for Starving Stone, coming in January. And I can’t wait!

Review: Final Flight by Beth Cato

Review: Final Flight by Beth CatoFinal Flight (Clockwork Dagger, #2.6) by Beth Cato
Formats available: ebook
Series: Clockwork Dagger #2.6
Pages: 48
Published by Harper Voyager Impulse on April 26th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo

Another breathtaking short story from the author of The Clockwork Dagger and The Clockwork Crown, set in the same world…
Captain Hue hoped he was rid of his troubles once Octavia Leander and Alonzo Garrett disembarked from his airship Argus. But he was quickly proved wrong when his ship was commandeered by Caskentian soldiers. He is ordered on a covert and deadly mission by the smarmy Julius Corrado, an elite Clockwork Dagger.
Now Captain Hue must start a mutiny to regain control of his airship, which means putting his entire crew at risk—including his teenage son Sheridan. As the weather worsens and time runs out, it’ll take incredible bravery to bring the Argus down….perhaps for good.

My Review:

I just finished this and I’m still reeling a bit. Final Flight is an absolute stunner, and I don’t believe that you have to have read the rest of the Clockwork Dagger stories to get caught up in its emotional punch. The characters in this book were very much not even secondary characters in the main series. More like tertiary. Or even further down the chain. So while the background is there, there isn’t much connection to the main events.

Instead, this is a tightly packed little story about the costs and horrors of war, told in a very insular and isolated setting. Which makes the punch that much harder.

Captain Hue’s airship has been commandeered again, but this time by his own government. And even though it was dragooned by the enemy during previous events, this particular loss of control feels much slimier. The Wasters were generally polite. They did the minimum amount of damage and caused the minimum amount of disruption. If they hadn’t held his son at knife-point to make sure that their orders were obeyed, he’d probably forgive the whole episode.

His own government, on the other hand, is clearly planning on using death magic for some unholy purpose, and he wishes he could have nothing to do with any of it. But his own government is now holding him and his ship effectively hostage, on a secret mission that feels dirtier and more disgusting by the second. He wants it to be over and his ship and crew to be his again.

Instead, he’s ordered to take his ship to a place where airships simply don’t go, to deliver a mysterious package and supposedly be set free. But his government has already stolen the ship’s only possible means of survival. It is clear to every sailor aboard that their own government intends for them to literally crash and burn on this mission, killing everyone aboard in a remote area where no one will ever find the ship or the bodies.

It’s the ultimate in deniability. And the Captain and his crew decide that they just won’t stand for it. A slim chance at life is better than the absolute certainty of death. And it is better to die free than tainted by whatever evil is being hatched by his own people.

Escape Rating A: The emotional wallop packed by this tiny story is intense. I’m still blinking back a few tears. There are so many questions here, and very few of them end up with answers. Including the ultimate fate of the crew.

The Captain’s government believes that the can strike one decisive blow against their enemy, and that killing a large number of people in one single blow will bring about a swift end to the war in their favor.

To this reader, it sounds a bit like discussions about the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

There’s a difference, or so it feels. In this fictional world, the pursuit of their ends has justified any nefarious means, including the murders of vast swaths of their own people, in order to power the death magic encased in their doomsday weapon. While the makers of the atomic bomb took some serious shortcuts with safety, and they were certainly playing with dangers that were not yet fully understood, the way that the doomsday weapon in this story is created is much different. It would be as if one of the components of the bomb required thousands of irradiated corpses to manufacture, and if the bomb makers were deliberately quarantining small, remote towns of their own people in order to “harvest” that ingredient. The doomsday weapon in this story literally feels terrifyingly dirty to anyone who is even near it, because they can actually feel the horror of the deaths that went into making it.

In the end, the power of this story is in its emotional heft. The way that the crew comes together as a family to decide their own fate, instead of letting their fate be handed to them by others. They have decided that the ends do not justify the means.

I think it says something about who both sides of this war are that the person that his government is trying to stop is a healer, and that the methodology they plan to use to stop her involves harvesting the deaths of thousands of their own people.

At the last, this story reminds me a bit of, surprisingly, 9/11. Not the attacks on the Twin Towers, but United Airlines Flight 93, the plane that went down in Pennsylvania because its passengers fought back against the hijackers. It made me wonder if some of the thoughts weren’t the same, that it was better to go down fighting than to go down in an obscene act of terrorism. When those are the only choices, we all want to believe that we will do what we can, even in extremis, for what seems like, if the greater good is not an available option, then for the least of the available evils.

Review: Wings of Sorrow and Bone by Beth Cato

Review: Wings of Sorrow and Bone by Beth CatoWings of Sorrow and Bone: A Clockwork Dagger Novella by Beth Cato
Formats available: ebook
Series: Clockwork Dagger #2.5
Pages: 96
Published by Harper Voyager Impulse on November 10th 2015
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo

From the author of The Clockwork Dagger comes an exciting novella set in the same world…
After being rescued by Octavia Leander from the slums of Caskentia, Rivka Stout is adjusting to her new life in Tamarania. But it’s hard for a blossoming machinist like herself to fit in with proper society, and she’d much rather be tinkering with her tools than at a hoity-toity party any day.
When Rivka stumbles into a laboratory run by the powerful Balthazar Cody, she also discovers a sinister plot involving chimera gremlins and the violent Arena game Warriors. The innocent creatures will end up hurt, or worse, if Rivka doesn’t find a way to stop Mr. Cody. And to do that means she will have to rely on some unexpected new friends.

My Review:

clockwork crown by beth catoI absolutely adored the Clockwork Dagger duology. The second book of the pair, The Clockwork Crown, is a contender for my best of the year list. The only reason that both books aren’t on the list is that The Clockwork Dagger was published in 2014, but I was late to the party.

If you like steampunk and skullduggery mixed with your magic and fantasy, this series is awesome.

So when I saw this postquel (that needs to be a word) listed on Edelweiss, I was all in. I call it a postquel because it isn’t a sequel. Wings of Sorrow and Bone isn’t a whole separate take on this world. Instead it’s more of a tying up of a loose end from the original story.

That being said, this could still serve as an introduction, or more likely a taste-whetter, for the series as a whole. The main characters in Wings were introduced in the main sequence, but not featured. This is sort of a what happens after because of the consequences of the main story. Of course, it has more depth if you’ve read Dagger and Crown. And why wouldn’t you? They are, as I said, positively awesome.

Wings of Sorrow and Bone takes place in Tamarania, the rich and sophisticated country that has managed to sit outside the long and devastating war between Caskentia and the Dallowmen. There are two links between Wings and the main series. One is Viola Stout, who traveled as Medician Octavia Leander’s companion during the main series. Viola is also the secret heir to the disputed Caskentian throne, and has hidden her identity her entire life. With her recently discovered granddaughter, Rivka Stout, Viola is now living safely in Tamarania, and trying to turn her street-urchin granddaughter into a lady.

clockwork dagger by beth catoAll Rivka wants is to be a machinist. She has a way with machines, and absolutely no facility for noble small talk or feminine frippery. Escaping from a dull society partner and her grandmother’s watchful eye, Rivka finds herself in the company Tatiana Garret. Tatiana is the younger sister of Alonzo Garret, the hero of Dagger and Crown. Alonzo is assisting the great medician Octavia Leander as she runs for her life. He’s also fallen in love with her.

And his selfish little sister is absolutely pissed that she isn’t getting enough of his attention. So she kidnaps Leander and ships her back to Caskentia as freight. Garret follows on a stolen mecha warrior, and that story barrels towards its conclusion.

But Tatiana is still in Tamarania, still feeling put upon, and the owner and trainer of the mecha her brother stole is still angry at the loss of his property. Tatiana is still looking for a way to get her own way in something. Rivka just wants to escape the party.

Together the young women find themselves in the mecha laboratory, watching as living animals, adorably ugly little gremlins. are experimented upon and having their parts amputated in order for the owner of the Arena to build a newer, bigger and even more deadly gremlin/mecha warrior to replace the one that Alonzo Garret stole.

All Tatiana seems to see is a way to be the center of everyone’s attention, by becoming the first female mecha rider.

All Rivka sees is a whole laboratory full of living, breathing, feeling, intelligent little animals, who are being sadistically tortured in order to create an even bigger, more intelligent and more feeling gremlin/mecha hybrid, one whose only fate is to die in that Arena.

But not if Rivka, with some surprising help from Tatiana, can find a way to bring it all down, and soon.

Escape Rating B+: This story is short, but packs a satisfying wallop at the end. However, there’s a bit of a stutter in the middle.

The plot that Rivka hatches, with the help of her grandmother Viola and the reluctant assistance of Tatiana, is actually quite clever. Stealing a mecha is not the answer. As the story makes all too clear, Alonzo Garret’s theft of the one gremlin/mecha warrior has only induced the Arena owner Cody, and all of his competitors, to make larger and more dangerous mecha constructs. And the bigger the mecha, the more little gremlins have to be sacrificed to provide the parts.

Rivka wants to save all the gremlins, the little ones who have lost their limbs or wings, and the great big one who is being trained to be a killer. She can’t steal them all, and she can’t buy them all. Her answer to the problem is ingenious. And successful.

It’s her use of Tatiana as an ally, and Tatiana’s very deliberate use of Rivka, that gave me fits. I like Rivka a lot. She’s self-sufficient and smart, and learned to survive in a school of very hard knocks. She loves her grandmother but just doesn’t know how to be the person her grandmother wants her to be. And she’s an absolutely brilliant mechanist.

Tatiana is a selfish little user throughout the story. As she was in Clockwork Crown. Tatiana is all about Tatiana, and she doesn’t care who she steps on or steps over as long as she gets her way. Where Rivka is a likeable protagonist, Tatiana is absolutely not. That Rivka and her grandmother get Tatiana on board with their plan is amazing. That they do it by creating a role that feeds her narcissism was necessary but still left me wanting to slap Tatiana upside the head with a clue-by-four.

And the ending of Wings of Sorrow and Bone still brought a smile to my face.

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