Worth a Read? Yes! As long as you like this genre, have any interest in Greece, and enjoy comedic characters.
“It’s a great day for Greece when Perseus defeats the dreaded kraken. But victory begins to lose its lustre when the remains of the beast swamp the shores and fishing nets of the Aegean.
Now after weeks of kraken cakes, kraken kabobs, kraken fritters, and kraken stew, everybody is getting decidedly sick of kraken—none more so than Chef Pelops.”
This was a surprise for me. First, it was a surprise that I picked it up from the shelf with nary a word known about it and second because I ended up enjoying it so much! I have a bit of a terrible track record for picking up books on the fly.
Kraken Bake is set in Greece and littered with characters who, if you have any love of mythology, you'll quickly recognise, but these are not your mother's Greek icons. This book is neither a history, nor a mythology lesson. There are elements of Greek myth and society interlaced in this fantasy tale, but it is exactly that—fantasy.
Dudley, however, crafts the world beautifully with enough research and reality to ground the story and make it believable. I didn't bat an eye when Dionysus shows up in the agora for a chat any more than I did while reading the description of the various shops or architecture there. A cute little tidbit going along with the story are the advertisements for those shops and other elements of the book popping up here and there.
This is, for all intents and purposes, more a comedy than anything else. If you develop any love for the main character, your heart might break a little in places, but his temperament (and narration), the various conflicts, and Dudley's style are sure to give you a few smiles (maybe some out loud laughs too).
The story primarily focuses on Chef Pelops, the book written from his perspective, who is trying to outcook is rival Mithaecus the Sicilian in the upcoming Bronze Chef competition. The contest has been declared after the famous battle between Perseus and the Kraken. Since the kraken's body doesn't decay, the Greeks were, at first, overjoyed by the plentiful amount of food. However, the Kraken isn't exactly what you'd call a tiny beast. So after months of kraken cakes, kraken kabobs, kraken fritters, and kraken stew, everyone is just about sick of kraken and the contest is declared to come up with new and inventive ways to eat the monster.
The main protagonist is quite endearing, if occasionally annoying, but brace yourself for that. One character in particular who comes in mid-to-late in the story had me almost chewing the pages out of irritation...but it oddly works. Also a heads up for any Perseus fans, you may want to murder him a little bit in this book. Or at least sock him in the nose once or twice. Like every character, his portrayal is different than what you may be used to. There's a bit of a romantic subplot as well that feels shoehorned in, but the character is at least amusing. I still couldn't shake the feeling that she was just there for that romantic point though.
The epicurean portion of the story definitely doesn't fall to the wayside (so if you're looking for an action-adventure, look elsewhere). There's enough detail put in the food and cooking portions that I was legitimately hungry at points - do not read on an empty stomach! (Or at least have some snacks nearby.) A couple of the recipes are even displayed on their own page as part of the collection of advertisements interspersed throughout the book.
While this isn't an epic tale of your usual heroes, there is some action with gods, curses, and a couple of interesting parties (to wit, one advertisement gives directions on how to cure a hangover Grecian style). It really picks up near the end and the denouement made me groan, but was overall satisfying.
This review is of the trade paperback edition, published by Ravenstone in 2014. [ISBN-13: 978-0-88801-466-5]
This book is an example of good spine design. The crimson red on golden yellow with this inky black tentacle is what drew me into picking it up in the first place. In a sea of book spines, the warm colour scheme actually stood out. Then I read "Kraken Bake" and my curiosity was hooked. The cover itself is minimalistic and I have a soft spot for such artwork (when I'm not hopelessly in love with full illustrated fantasy covers anyway).
As I mentioned, the book design is what drew me into to giving this novel a thorough look. The colours aren't bright, or even complementary, but the graphic design is near flawless. The black iconic kraken on the cover really pops from the gold background and the designer was very clever to have the design wrap around. The crimson bar showcasing the title on the front, wraps around on the spine to highlight the author's name, and finishes across the back to separate praise from the book's synopsis.
Part of the design around that crimson bar is a meander (a repeated motif of small waves) and it's also repeated around the chapter headings in the book which is a nice touch. Otherwise, the interior is pretty standard and very clear. I find the drop cap taking up two lines at the beginning of each chapter a little distracting, but headings and folios are neatly tucked away above and below the text with ample white space to keep the eye on the prose.
Back to those advertisements, a couple of them, I felt were out of place when they took up more than a single page, but every one ties into the story. I tend to devour stories so it took a little effort to pull myself away to really give them a close look, so I preferred the less verbose interludes.
Kraken Bake was a delightful read and I would recommend it to any fantasy lover who's looking for something a little different from the usual sword-and-sorcery story. If you're looking for meticulously crafted fight scenes and big beasties to slay though, you'll be disappointed. (And no, you won't even get a description of Perseus slaying the kraken, this story isn't about him.)
I like out-of-the-ordinary heroes and Chef Pelops is an excellent narrator of his own story. Dudley makes his personality shine through in every scene making him both relatable and believable. Even though Pelops made me cringe now and again, he's overall an easy character to root for and a pleasure follow on his adventure.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this content and I have no material connection to the brands, topics, and/or products that are mentioned herein.