What Kings Ate and Wizards Drank by Krista D. Ball - Book Review

Write on: Tue, 05 May 2020 by  in Assaph's Reviews Read 2427

I can't remember exactly when What Kings Ate floated past me, but given my love of both fantasy and historical foodstuffs I knew it was going to be a hit.

What to expect

A non-fiction that's still light-hearted, both informative and entertaining. The author covers many aspects of food throughout history as a way to enhance both fantasy and historical fiction. Though primarily aimed at writers, it would appeal to readers of these genres too - to anyone who loves to know more about how humans lived in different periods. As an author who writes historical fantasy blends (or at least uses real history to greatly influence his fantasy worlds), I found this an excellent starter on the subject.

What I liked

I like the tone of the book, how the Ball managed to thread humour into it. This is obviously a well researched work - not academic, but rather just the right balance to expose authors and readers to original sources. It's as delightful as it is instructive.

I find that food is such an important aspect of storytelling and worldbuilding (it's not a fetish, I swear), and I notice when it's missing. I welcome any work that helps expand understanding and improves fantasy and historical fiction.

What to be aware of

The subject is vast, and naturally can't be fully covered in a single volume. Ball focuses on medieval(ish) Britain as the most common fantasy background, and though she does include references to other periods and times they are not the focus.

Also, due to the scope, treat this as a starter. It should expose you to the concerns people had around food (which, let's face it, is one of the prime drivers of history) throughout the ages. It is still up to the author to research their own chosen time period and region, and then to integrate it in a meaningful way to enhance their writing.

(And, if it needs to be said, don't expect any actual wizards - just their historical counterparts).

Felix's Review

Felix sees nothing wrong with larks tongues in aspic, though he did get confused with references to Roman risotto and would like to point out that the bodily humours are related to but not the same as the four elements. (We think it's an artefact of the editors trying to reign the author, rather than any fault on her part).


Highly recommended to anyone - reader or author - who notices food in fantasy and historical fiction, and is a tad over all taverns serving venison stew and all wilderness providing for roast rabbit dinners.



Assaph has been a bibliophile since he learnt to read at the age of five, and a Romanophile ever since he first got his hands on Asterix, way back in elementary school. This exacerbated when his parents took him on a trip to Rome and Italy - he whinged horribly when they dragged him to "yet another church with baby angels on the ceiling", yet was happy to skip all day around ancient ruins and museums for Etruscan art. 

He has since been feeding his addiction for books with stories of mystery and fantasy of all kinds. A few years ago he randomly picked a copy of a Lindsay Davis' Marcus Didius Falco novel in a used book fair, and fell in love with Rome all over again, this time from the view-point of a cynical adult. His main influences in writing are Steven Saylor, Lindsey Davis, Barry Hughart and Boris Akunin. 

Assaph now lives in Sydney, Australia with his wife, kids, cats, and - this being Australia - assorted spiders. By day he is a software product manager, bridging the gap between developers and users, and by night he's writing - he seems to do his best writing after midnight.



Twitter: @assaphmehr