The Sol Majestic, by Ferrett Steinmetz
Kenna is the Prince Inevitable, heir to the mantle of Inevitable Philosophies, set to guide galactic leaders to peace like his parents and grandparents before him. But he has yet to divine his own unique Philosophy, his parents and their religion have fallen on hard times -very hard times – and he finds himself destitute and desperately hungry, roaming the corridors of the interstellar Savor Station, existing on nutricrackers and whatever else he can forage or steal.
Then, by chance, he finds himself standing outside the Sol Majestic, touted as the most exclusive restaurant in the galaxy catering to the rich and famous, with a waiting list over two years long. Yet each night they reserve one table, free of charge, for “those with the love to see it.” Almost delirious with hunger, Kenna stands in line to be the one to be picked for such an honor, listening to other would-be diners wax poetical about haute cuisine, exotic ingredients and bizarre concepts such as flavor profiles and top notes, of which he knows nothing.
Yet one by one these gourmands and connoisseurs are turned away. When Kenna is ushered to the auditioning table, he is at a loss at what to say. He doesn’t even know if he loves food, he stammers, because he’s never had anything beyond canned meat and dried noodles. All he is doing is surviving, and barely that. Yet perhaps if he had one meal that could show him more than what he has ever known, perhaps… just perhaps… it would open the way to discovering his own elusive Philosophy.
And miraculously, he is chosen.
What follows is an engrossing novel that incorporates mad genius, exquisite culinary process and personal journeys through ineffable beliefs and bittersweet realities, that is both bleak and soaring.
We meet Paulius, the brilliant executive chef of the Sol Majestic, who takes Kenna under his wing as inspiration for a new culinary adventure, and Scrimshaw, the miserly administrator who keeps those soaring ideas grounded. We meet the dedicated and highly skilled kitchen crew, each striving for the perfection their master and reputation demands. We watch the delicate ballet of front of house and kitchen as they execute an exquisite dinner service, and the aftermath’s celebration before setting back in for the next day’s requirements. This is culinary drama at its best, heightened to a galactic level unbound by terrestrial limitations. And we see it all through Kenna’s naive eyes, which is a delight to behold, both for us and for the players themselves.
As the book progresses, we move from environment to plot, most of which is just as enticing. As with any great art, the work behind it is messy and complicated, and we get a sense of desperation as we learn just what is at stake, both personally and professionally for Paulius and the Sol Majestic. As Kenna gets pulled in to this drama, he also carries the fear of failure, as so much is riding on the discovery of his own Inevitable Philosophy, which maddeningly continues to elude him. There are many different layers in this novel, and surprisingly, all of them succeed.
The book is not a perfect read; Kenna’s continual navel-gazing can be tedious, certain personal revelations are not strong enough to warrant the eureka treatment they are given, and occasionally we are jerked out of the beautifully crafted environment by an ill-placed reference (“Christmas lights”, really?) But these drawbacks are only detractions, they do not mar the scope of the environment and depth of the narrative.
Indeed, parts of this book are breathtaking. The passages regarding an “illegal drug party” are positively riveting. Kenna’s unfolding awareness of the worlds outside his narrow upbringing is both truly precious and eye-opening. The scope of the worldbuilding in this novel is staggering- even though it takes place on a single space station. And who knew that a simple cup of broth could be so full of purpose and meaning?
Reading The Sol Majestic is a savory experience in and of itself. Clear your schedule and take some time to sit back and enjoy.