A tyrannical Duke-Regent enjoys a sumptuous banquet with his courtiers. With him are two food tasters. One tastes the meats and salads but the other is there to taste only the pastries.
“Saffron has been Confection Taster all that time, her husband Danny Head Pastry Chef. Their warm smiles have been perfected as the Traitor King’s power grows, inch by inch, as those who object to his grasp fail and fall, as the printers are vanished, as the daughters disappear from their homes. The little prince still sleeps in his nursery—but for how long? That is the question on everyone’s mind in the last year. Not a question uttered, but a question that stays poised on the tongue, and does not fall.”https://www.tor.com/2018/07/11/the-last-banquet-of-temporal-confections-tina-connolly/
Saffron’s role is twofold. Firstly she is a warranty against the ‘traitor king’ Duke Michal from being poisoned by her own husband but secondly her role is to describe to the assembled diners what each pastry is and also what each pastry does.
By means of special herbs and arcane baking, Danny has confected the means to evoke emotional memories in his dishes. The banquet takes us through such delights as:
- The Rosemary Crostini of Delightfully Misspent Youth
- The Fennel Flatbread of Sunlit Days Gone By
- The Rose-Pepper Shortbread of Sweetness Lost
Each dish is designed to transport whoever eats into personal memories that encapsulate the feeling. As Saffron tastes each one, she recalls events in her life prior from meeting her future husband to losing her sister to Duke Michal’s oppression.
Tina Connolly’s story of regret and resistance takes a clever fantasy conceit and deftly uses it as both a frame to tell snippets of Saffron’s life and play on the theme of food, taste and memory. The arc of the story is neither surprising nor dull but rather takes you to an obvious destination via an unusual path.
“If she had seen a fourth memory, it might well have been the aftermath. For it is a day not long after that when Danny starts experimenting on what he will call the bitter pastries. Not bitter in flavor, necessarily. Certainly deeper in flavor, more profound notes in the tasting. Memories that are both sweet and sour. Memories with a purpose.https://www.tor.com/2018/07/11/the-last-banquet-of-temporal-confections-tina-connolly/
The first one has a rose flavor, in honor of her sister.”
This is a very nicely constructed story. It rests on genre conventions (the evil usurper who delights in good food and inflicting misery) as a base for a story that could have been whimsical but instead looks at how people can find power out of powerlessness.