Eli Brown's "Cinnamon and Gunpowder" a rollicking tale of love, theft, opium

What do stockholders, pirates and chefs have in common? In Eli Brown’s novel, “Cinnamon and Gunpowder,” they all fear the beautiful and destructive pirate captain Hannah “Mad” Mabbot.

Set in the early 1800s, renowned chef Owen Wedgwood is quietly employed by the chief shareholder of the Pendleton Trading Company, the backbone of the English trading empire. But Owen’s employer has made a great enemy of Captain Hannah Mabbot and one fateful evening Captain Mabbot bursts into the dining room, kills Owen’s employer, and takes Owen hostage.

In order to earn his keep, Captain Mabbot charges Owen with making her one gourmet meal every Sunday. While Owen fears for his life and struggles in a meager, unhygienic kitchen, Captain Mabbot is after bigger game: The Brass Fox, a dastardly pirate hellbent on murder; and Laroche, a destructive but orderly man desperate to preserve his good name.

While Owen often contemplates escaping, he soon realizes the severity of his situation: “How would I fare with my sack of figs and my flattened spoon? Further, those explorers were imbued with God-given courage and an insatiable lust for adventure, whereas I have been known to pay too much for beef at the Smithfield market for fear of harsh words.”

“Cinnamon and Gunpowder” is a bit confusing at first, but readers should take a lesson from Owen and just hang on tight and enjoy the action. While the fight scenes, cruel punishments (an earful of molten lead), and harrowing chases are fantastic, there is also depth to this fast-paced novel, as Owen is forced to confront a number of strongly held beliefs about men, conduct, and the fate of the soul.A rollicking tale of love, theft, opium and food, “Cinnamon and Gunpowder” also proves that often the greatest adventure a person can have is learning to sympathize — and love — an enemy.

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