Saffron is the royal taste tester, a position she was compelled to take up when the Traitor King, Duke Michal, usurped the throne and took her into his service. Saffron’s husband Danny is a master baker who discovered a way to invoke the powerful and vivid reliving of memories in the people who eat his confectionary, but who is now confined to the royal kitchens and forced to cook his special breads and cakes for Duke Michal and his nobles at the weekly banquets of temporal confections the duke hosts at court. The story is told during the course of one single banquet, but through the memories Saffron relives throughout the course of the meal we see how she and Danny first met, through to their marriage and the time Danny spent perfecting his craft in the family bakery and how they came to be prisoners of the duke and, finally, what they intend to do about it.
I discovered this short novelette at the same time I discovered For He Can Creep by Siobhan Carrol. That story is a fun, light-hearted read that plastered a smile across my face from beginning to end so, purely due to association bias, The Last Banquet of Temporal Confections was shelved the same way in my head. But this is actually a much more emotional story about memory and what it means to live a good life and resisting tyranny. It was written before Nghi Vo’s The Empress of Salt and Fortune but it uses a similar narrative technique of telling a story through the evocation of memories, in this case through magically-infused pastries. It’s an incredibly powerful way to write a story when done well, as both Connolly and Vo did; I’d say I’d love to see more of this kind of storytelling but I actually don’t want to see it overdone and these two stories do it so well I’m more than content to have seen it done perfectly in just two stories.
One of the things I loved about The Last Banquet of Temporal Confections was its exploration of the subtle mutual understanding two people who are very close share with each other. The story is always building towards something; Saffron understands that Danny is trying to communicate with her through the particular memories he knows his food will invoke during the course of this particular banquet, but she also knows that none of the other guests could possibly understand the subtleties of what he is telling her. Anyone who has lived with a partner for many years or has friends who are just on your exact wavelength will know you end up communicating in ways no one else would understand. I know personally that me and my partner share in-jokes nested within in-jokes that would make no sense whatsoever to someone who hasn’t been privy to years of shared conversations, love and laughter that comes with sharing so much of yourself with someone and this story does a wonderful job of showing the development and end result of that kind of relationship in Saffron and Danny.
It’s also just written very well. It’s very short, something like thirty pages, but I knew exactly who Saffron and Danny were as characters, what they’d suffered and what they were willing to do to put things right. That’s made all the more impressive given that we never actually see Danny in the present tense of the banquet itself, and he expresses himself through his culinary creations like the Rosemary Crostini of Delightfully Misspent Youth, the Rose-Pepper Shortbread of Sweetness Lost and the Lemon Tart of Profound Regret, plus the final and most devastating course that I’ll keep quiet about here. It’s a very unique kind of revenge story, but it’s also more than that, it’s a resistance story that punishes the villain by exploiting his own cruelty, with a very satisfying sense of poetic justice. I’ve read a lot more short fiction this year (though still not as much as I’d have liked) and I’ve found a bunch of incredibly skilled writers with the ability to write very powerful short stories that will stick in my memory for a long time. Tina Connolly is definitely one of those writers.
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