Discussion - Book 12: A Great Reckoning

Reading Group Guide

Reading Group Questions for A GREAT RECKONING

  1. “The worst was coming. But so was the best. The snow angels were coming,” Gamache reflects in the first chapter. Aside from evoking the chill of November, what expectations do these lines raise about the story to come?
  2. What do you think of Gamache’s decision to invite Brébeuf to teach at the academy? What does the invitation, and Brébeuf’s acceptance of it, say about the two men?
  3. In what ways is the map significant to Gamache, the villagers, and the various cadets? What significance does it have for you?
  4. How do you feel about the character of Amelia? Did you see the final words in the book coming, and did they change your view of Gamache or Amelia in any way?
  5. What are the most important things Gamache teaches the cadets? What does he learn from them?
  6. How does the relationship between Gamache and Beauvoir evolve throughout the story? Do they generally behave in the ways you’d predict, or do they sometimes surprise you?
  7. In what ways are the cadets similar to and different from one another? How did Leduc play upon their strengths and weaknesses?
  8. “The innocent are often upset when the world doesn’t live up to their expectations,” Lacoste says of Amelia. Can you think of examples of this in the outside world?
  9. Louise quotes from a poem by Jonathan Swift: “Come hither, all ye empty things,/Ye bubbles raised by breath of kings.” What do you think is meant by the “bubbles raised”? What are the bubbles?
  10. How do you respond to the scene in the chapel in Chapter 39, when Gamache talks to the cadets about what happened with Leduc?
  11. How do the emotions of both jealousy and loyalty affect the characters’ actions? In Chapter 41, what is the meaning of the line, “The friendship. The friendship”?
  12. “Few writers in any genre can match Penny’s ability to combine heartbreak and hope in the same scene,” said Publishers Weekly in a starred review of Bury Your Dead. Did you laugh or cry at any point during A Great Reckoning, and if so, what made you do so?
Printable Version: A Great Reckoning Reading Group Guide [PDF]
Recipe - Book 12: A Great Reckoning


wcag heading

“Probably best to have a more private discussion,” said Armand, leading him into the kitchen where he sliced fresh bread from Sarah’s boulangerie and Gélinas helped him grill sandwiches of Brome Lake duck, brie and fig confit.

A Great Reckoning


Makes 2 servings


For the Fig Confit

  • 1 cup dried Turkish figs, finely chopped
  • ½ cup dry red wine
  • ½ cup water
  • 3 tablespoons dark brown sugar, firmly packed
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon fresh rosemary, finely minced

For the Seared Duck and Sandwich Assembly

  • 1 boneless, skin-on duck breast
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 slices sourdough bread
  • 2 teaspoons softened butter
  • ¼ – ½ cup baby arugula
  • ¼ cup Kalamata olives, pitted coarsely chopped
  • 2 ounces Brie cheese, sliced


  • Prepare the fig confit: In a 1 1/2-quart saucepan, mix together all of the ingredients and bring the liquid up to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium low, cover, and simmer for approximately 20 minutes. Remove lid and continue to gently simmer the mixture, stirring occasionally to ensure that nothing is sticking to the sides or bottom of the pan, until the excess liquid has evaporated and mixture has thickened like jam. Cool completely before use. The confit may be made 5 days ahead and chilled, covered.
  • Sear the duck breast: Rinse the duck breast thoroughly under cool water and pat dry with a paper towel. Place the meat on a cutting board with the skin side facing up. Use a sharp to knife score the skin and underlying fat in a checkerboard pattern, being careful not to cut all the way though to the meat. This will help ensure that the fat can render out properly and render the skin perfectly crisp. Season all sides thoroughly with salt and black pepper.
  • Set a large, heavy skillet over high heat and allow it get very hot before placing the duck breast in the center, skin side down. Turn down the heat to medium and allow the meat to cook undisturbed for 8 – 10 minutes, to ensure an even sear. Use tongs to carefully flip the meat, cooking for an additional 5 – 6 minutes on the opposite side. Once crisp and golden all over, remove the meat from the pan, letting rest for at least 10 minutes before slicing thinly. The meat should remain light pink inside.
  • To assemble the sandwich: Place a large skillet or grill pan over moderate heat. Meanwhile, spread 1/2 teaspoon butter each on 2 slices of bread. Place the buttered sides down in the pan and quickly top with an even layer of fig confit, Brie, olives, arugula, and sliced duck. Divide the remaining butter between the two remaining slices of bread, placing the butter sides facing up. Apply gently pressure to bring the sandwich together. Once the brie begins to melt and the bottom slice of bread is evenly browned, carefully flip the sandwiches. Toast the opposite side to your desired shade of brown, continuing to press lightly as they cool.
  • Remove from the heat, slice in half, and serve immediately.

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