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Food for the Gods
By Karen Dudley
Ravenstone, 424 pages, $16
Imagine being butchered by your own father, served in a stew to the gods and resurrected with an ivory shoulder for your troubles. Such is the fate of Pelops, a favoured mortal grandson of Zeus and the protagonist of this locally written novel, an inspired, tragic yet comical variation on the Greek myth.
An entertaining work of historical fantasy chronicling Pelops's reincarnation as a chef in Athens, Food for the Gods is set during the festivities of the Great Panathenaea, which the ancient Greeks celebrated once every four years in honour of Athena, goddess of the city.
Author Karen Dudley is best known for her Robyn Devara series of detective novels. But research is clearly her forte. Food for the Gods is equal parts believable descriptions of and insightful commentary on life in ancient Greece.
Dudley has drawn upon a gamut of influences from Homer to the Food Network. Fans of Gods Behaving Badly, a bestseller by British author Marie Phillips, who long for more laugh-out-loud shenanigans from the likes of Dionysus, Hermes and Ares will enjoy Dudley's interpretation of the classics.
The first family of Mount Olympus, including Zeus himself, makes several appearances throughout the narrative. The way in which Dudley breathes new life into the tales of some of the most well-known figures in Greek mythology is thoroughly contemporary. Twists and turns abound.
That Pelops is reborn with culinary acumen was a stroke of genius on Dudley's part. Readers will find themselves rooting for Pelops as he attempts to overcome terrible odds while employing top-notch cooking techniques at the hearths of the ancient Greeks.
The demigod's dealings with other chefs, producers, suppliers and kitchen staff are highly entertaining. Dudley inserts recipes for some of the dishes she describes between chapters.
Of course, no retelling of Greek myths would be complete without a certain soapiness, and Dudley does not disappoint with plenty of power struggles, a heartbreaking love triangle and, of course, murder and mayhem.
After a courtesan is brutally attacked during one of his catering events, Pelops becomes a reluctant sleuth when the wrath of the Furies descends upon Athens and a rival chef begins hurling accusations of sacrilegious food preparation.
With the whodunit as her literary calling card, Dudley has retold the story of Pelops with an intriguing complexity that is unquestionably original.
Though Food for the Gods is plot-driven, Dudley is nonetheless creative with her characters; each has a distinctive point of view to share.
No one in this world Dudley has so strongly reimagined is forgettable, and almost everyone is delightfully unpredictable. Her gods are zany and foul-mouthed, but surprisingly likable.
Several characters speak with pseudo-British accents. "Bollocks! If bloody Athena weren't so sniffy about her sodding festival," grumbles Dionysus, god of wine, to Pelops at one point. A satyr who runs Dionysus's wine stall in the agora in his absence speaks with a Canadian hoser accent, uttering "eh" several times in conversation with Pelops.
Readers who cannot wait to find out what Pelops and company will do or say next need not despair. A sequel is planned in 2014.
Jennifer Pawluk is a Petersfield-based writer and proofreader.