Book Series Review: The Matthew Shardlake Series by C.J. Sansom

Have you ever read a historical fiction series that made you stop and think that the plots of the books could be possible? They make you question the way you look at the past and wonder why no one had ever written a series like it before. You feel like you are friends with the protagonist and his pals and you despise the nefarious villains that try to thwart the efforts of the heroes. You feel like the books are true escapism and that you can visualize the world that the author has created using a combination of facts and fictional ideas.

Now, I could be describing any number of historical fiction series, but this one, in particular, blew me away. If you have been following my blog or my page, you know that I am talking about the Matthew Shardlake series by C.J. Sansom. The books are all unique, yet read in the chronological order that Sansom intended, shows the amazing progress of England through the reign of the Tudors and how these changes affected those living during this time. We follow the hunch-back lawyer Matthew Shardlake on seven of his more infamous cases, each one more dangerous than the previous one: Dissolution, Dark Fire, Sovereign, Revelation, Heartstone, Lamentation, and Tombland.

Before I jumped into this series, I honestly had never heard of it, except when people mentioned these books in posts that I asked my followers what they are reading. I do not normally read murder mystery novels, but since it was based in the Tudor dynasty, I decided to give it a shot and I wholeheartedly loved it. I am so glad no one spoiled this series for me. I might fangirl a bit during this review, but I will try my best not to spoil this series for anyone else. I want to discuss the different elements of this series that I have comes to enjoy. I would love to continue to discuss this series with those of you who have read it and have enjoyed it as much as I have.

Characters

Matthew Shardlake

Matthew Shardlake is our main protagonist in this series, aptly named after him. As mentioned above, he is a hunch-back lawyer who works hard to solve mostly murder mysteries. He fights for what he believes is right, even when times get tough. There are sometimes when he is not even sure what he stands for, especially when it comes to his stance on religion and if he supports those in power. He is constantly the butt of everyone’s jokes and for the most part, they don’t bother him. He fights against notorious enemies while defending his friends and those who cannot defend themselves. Matthew is unlucky when it comes to love, but that does not mean that we can’t help but root for him to find his happily ever after. There were so many times that I was not sure Matthew was going to survive, but Sansom’s plan for his loveable protagonist throughout this series was simply brilliant. A protagonist who I will never forget.

Jack Barak

We are first introduced to Jack Barak in book two of the series, “Dark Fire”. He was a rogue working for the mighty Thomas Cromwell. He teams up with Shardlake for what seems like only one case, but the two men soon develop a lasting friendship, even when things get a bit rocky between them. In the third book, “Sovereign”, Jack is introduced to the love of his life, Tamasin. Their relationship will be tumultuous at times, but it is caring and it does survive the test of time. He is the bad boy turned family man that everyone loves. He does make stupid mistakes, but you cannot help but admire his tenacity.

Guy Malton

Next to Matthew Shardlake and Jack Barak, Guy Malton is probably one of my favorite characters. We are introduced to Guy when he was working in a monastery in “Dissolution”. Guy goes from a former monk to a well known and respected apothecary with his shop. He is unlike anyone who Matthew has ever met as he is a Moorish man turned Christian monk. I love the fact that Sansom went this direction to show how truly diverse the Tudor world was. Guy challenges Matthew when it comes to religion and what he believes is right when it comes to science. He is the wise old man that heals everyone’s wounds and is a comforting counsel when someone needs his help.

Nicholas Overton

Nicholas Overton is Matthew’s young assistant in the last two books, “Lamentation” and “Tombland”. He comes from a wealthy family, but when a disagreement happens, he goes to work for Matthew Shardlake. He is young and naive but loyal to a fault. He believes that everything should be handed to him on a silver platter until life gives him a rude awakening call. We don’t get to see him develop as a character as much as the others, but I hope if Sansom writes any more novels, he includes Nicholas Overton.

Historical Figures

Now, some characters are historical figures that make an appearance in the novels that left a lasting impression on me while I was reading. The calculating Thomas Cromwell, who was always trying to stay in his majesty’s favor and do his bidding until the bitter end. The dastardly Richard Rich, who I have always felt was a bit shady, but Sansom made me hate him even more. The legend himself, King Henry VIII, who is glittery and magnanimous to his people, but if you cross him, his true colors come out in full force. Catherine Parr, the scholar turned queen whose writings and her views on religious reform walk a fine line between what is acceptable and what is considered heretical. Elizabeth Tudor, the intellectual daughter of the king who has a similar temper to that of her father, but has a longing to help the Boleyn family in honor of her mother.

What is brilliant about Sansom’s series is that these historical figures are more background characters or they are villains. They are not the protagonists, as they are portrayed in other historical novels. The real heroes are the average people, reminding the reader that under all the glitz and glam of the Tudor court, there were regular men and women were trying to survive during such tumultuous times.

Cases

With such a remarkable cast of characters, Sansom had to put them through extremely difficult obstacles to test their limits and to give his readers a breathtaking look into the Tudor world. Whether it is the dissolution of a monastery, a race to find a mysterious flame, a radical killing based on the book of Revelation, or the sinking of the Mary Rose, Sansom takes us on a non-stop roller coaster of emotions. Just when you thought you had the case figured out, a monkey wrench is thrown into the mix and all of the sudden, our intrepid heroes are risking their lives because one of the villains knew that they were getting too close.

Since all of these novels revolve around murder mysteries, I think it is only right that we should discuss the murders themselves. In “Dissolution”, there is a typical advancement of murder to cover up the original crime. As the series progresses, you can see the wheels turning in Sansom’s head as he comes up with even more dastardly ways to kill off in his novels. There were points where I was starting to get concerned just from the graphic details of some of these deaths and executions. They will be engrained in my brain for a long time, which is a sign of how delightful Sansom’s writing style truly is, especially in this series.

The Details

As I mentioned before, what sets this series apart from others that I have read are those exquisite details. I think what helped is the fact that C.J. Sansom does have a Ph.D. in history, so he understands how important accurate facts are to historical fiction readers. The fact that Sansom decided to use his skills as a Doctor in History to write a Tudor historical fiction murder mystery series is awe-inspiring.

He was able to create a Tudor world that feels so real that you forget that you are reading novels. From scenic descriptions to the more gruesome accounts of horrific events, Sansom takes us on a trip to the past that we do not want to leave. We are craving more adventures after we finish every novel.

The Future

However, as I am writing this review, Tombland is the final book in the Shardlake series. C.J. Sansom is currently ill and I wish him nothing but the best in his recovery. These seven books make for a fabulous series, but Sansom has mentioned that he does wish for the series to go through the reign of Elizabeth I, which I would love.

As I was reading this series, I came up with some ideas for spin-off series to continue the adventures of Matthew Shardlake and his friends. For prequels, I was thinking that Sansom could either follow the adventures of Jack Barak working for Cromwell or Guy Malton as he learns how to be Moorish and a monk. Then there is the sequel, which I think would have Nicholas Overton as the protagonists and the children that we have seen grow up during this series. They could solve mysteries in the Elizabethan era into the Stewarts, bridging the gap between the two dynasties. I also think that if Sansom does write more novels with this cast of characters, it would be fun to explore other countries, in Europe or beyond, during the 15th and 16th centuries. I think it would expand the world for the readers and give them a taste of other royal dynasties and what else was going on in the world during the time of the Tudor dynasty in England.

Conclusion

I am so glad so many of you recommended that I should read this series. I would have never picked it up if it had not been for you. I now know why so many people love it. It is one of those series that you have to read from start to finish, even though each adventure is a treat by themselves. It is one of those series that I will reread soon so that I can visit Matthew Shardlake and his friends all over again.

I wanted to write this series review because the Shardlake series is easily becoming one of my favorite historical fiction series and I had a lot to say about it. I decided to leave major details of the individual novels out of this review so that those who are not familiar with these seven stunning, spellbinding novels can experience them for themselves without spoilers. If you do want to know how I feel about each book, I have included links to each of the reviews down below.

Dissolution:https://adventuresofatudornerd.com/2020/06/06/book-review-dissolution-by-c-j-sansom/

Dark Fire:https://adventuresofatudornerd.com/2020/06/20/book-review-dark-fire-by-c-j-sansom/

Sovereign: https://adventuresofatudornerd.com/2020/07/05/book-review-sovereign-by-c-j-sansom/

Revelation: https://adventuresofatudornerd.com/2020/07/21/book-review-revelation-by-c-j-sansom/

Heartstone: https://adventuresofatudornerd.com/2020/08/04/book-review-heartstone-by-c-j-sansom/

Lamentation: https://adventuresofatudornerd.com/2020/08/22/book-review-lamentation-by-c-j-sansom/

Tombland: https://adventuresofatudornerd.com/2020/09/21/book-review-tombland-by-c-j-sansom/

I want to leave the last part of this review for those who have read this remarkable series to discuss it. I know that is not a series that is often discussed, so I thought that you should have your say. What is your favorite book in the series and why? Who is your favorite character and why? Who is your favorite villain and why? Why do you enjoy this series?

Book Review: “Lamentation” by C.J. Sansom

27263493._SY475_The year is 1546 and England is once again in turmoil. Rumors swirl that the once-mighty King Henry VIII is gravely ill and his councilors, both Protestants and Catholics, are vying for power to see who will help Henry’s young son, Edward when he becomes king. With such distinct factions, those are not Protestant or Catholic, like the Anabaptists, are deemed heretics and they are hunted down. Executions over faith, like the death of Anne Askew, run rampant across London. Those who own books that were deemed “controversial” were under a shroud of suspicion. When Matthew Shardlake’s main supporter, Queen Catherine Parr’s book Lamentation of a Sinner, goes missing, Shardlake must navigate the religious divide carefully to retrieve the missing manuscript before it is discovered. Can Shardlake and his friends save the queen from the heresy hunt in time? The stakes could never be higher in C.J. Sansom’s sixth Shardlake novel, “Lamentation”.

If you have been following my adventures with this series, you know it quickly is becoming one of my favorites. Of course, I wanted to read this novel, but when I found out that it involved Catherine Parr and one of her books, I immediately had to jump back into Shardlake’s world.

Sansom begins his sixth novel with Shardlake witnessing the execution of Anne Askew. The introduction alone made me a bit squeamish, because of its intensity. The way he described this event cemented how real the consequences were for those who were on the wrong side of the religious divide. Shortly after this horrific event, Shardlake is giving a new mission by his patroness, Catherine Parr. Someone has stolen the manuscript of a very personal book that she wrote, Lamentation of a Sinner, and if should fall into the wrong hands, the queen may be executed like Anne Askew. Since Shardlake is fond of the queen, he cannot allow this to happen, so he embarks on a secretive mission to retrieve the manuscript, which leads him on a collision course with some of the kingdom’s most illustrious and powerful men, including his arch-nemesis, Sir Richard Rich.

To top it all off, Shardlake has another case, because the man can never take things easy and tackle one case at a time. This time, it is a sibling squabble over an inheritance and a painting. However, this is not just a simple case of sibling rivalry as the brother and sister share a dark secret that will radically change the course of this case and their lives forever.

I feel like the previous Shardlake novels have had an element of danger, but this book amplified the danger level immensely for our intrepid lawyer and his friends. I think the secret-keeping that Matthew had to do and the relationship between him, Guy, Barak, and a new assistant Nicholas Overton, was brilliant and heightened the drama. The last one hundred pages left me speechless. It was an incredible conclusion to a heart-racing novel.

I don’t know how Sansom keeps writing hit after hit, but he does. This adventure was mesmerizing in its complexity. There were so many times I thought I had the crime solved and Sansom threw another twist. I did not want this one to end because I know that there is only one book left and I am not ready to say goodbye to these characters that I have grown to love so much. If you are a fan of the Shardlake series, you must read “Lamentation” by C.J. Sansom, as soon as possible.

Book Review: “Revelation” by C.J. Sansom

820480The year is 1543 and King Henry VIII is looking for his sixth and final wife; the recent widowed Catherine Parr has caught his eye. It is her reformist values that make her a valuable asset for Archbishop Cranmer and his faction at court, and a target for others. A friend of Matthew Shardlake is viciously murdered, leading to a horrific discovery of a killer is on the loose. On top of that, Shardlake must defend a young man who has been placed in the Bedlam insane asylum for his radical beliefs. It is up to Shardlake and his intrepid assistant Barak, along with the former monk turned physician Guy Malton, to solve both cases before anyone else becomes the next victim. This is the world that readers are plunged to in the next book in C.J. Sansom’s Shardlake series, “Revelation”.

I will be honest. When I saw that this book was dealing with elements of the book of Revelation, I was a bit nervous. I thought it was going to be extremely dark and so apocalyptic that I would not enjoy it. However, Sansom proved that he could make a thriller and still keep the characters that I have come to love and enjoy just as engaging and real to me as they have been in the previous novels. You can never judge a novel by its title, you have to read the book to understand the author’s motive behind their title choice.

We are thrown into the next installment of this engrossing series with Shardlake attending a dinner party hosted by his old friend Roger. Sansom paints this simple and honest friendship between the two men, which is tragically cut short when Roger is found horrifically murdered. After meeting with Archbishop Cranmer and other prominent men, including the Seymour brothers Thomas and Edward, Shardlake soon realizes that this was not a random act of violence, but a stage act by a deranged serial killer who based his murders off of the book of Revelation from the Bible. The additional characters of Thomas Seymour, Archbishop Cranmer, and Catherine Parr adds a sense that these events could have happened. The meticulous details of each murder intensify the experience for the reader and make you wonder if they will ever catch the fiend.

Another element of this novel is Shardlake’s interaction with his client Adam Kite who is a patient at the Bedlam insane asylum. Although we do not know what these kind of facilities were like during the Tudor times, Sansom’s descriptions of mental illness and how people were treated is so believable that you forget that it is fiction. The way that Sansom blends religious radicalism, politics, mental illness, innovations in science, and murder in this novel is nothing short of ingenious. That is Sansom’s true strength as an author. He can create such a believable Tudor world that you never want to leave. There were points in this novel where I questioned whether Shardlake, Barak, and Guy would survive this entire ordeal. Sansom kept me on the edge of my seat throughout this entire novel.
I know that I say this about every Shardlake novel so far, but this one was brilliant. The character development was astonishing and at times, heart-aching as you see your favorite characters struggle to survive. The murders and the details were so vivid that it felt real, which is all due to Sansom’s captivating writing style. I may have questioned the title of this particular novel and whether or not I would personally enjoy it, but once I entered Shardlake’s Tudor world for the fourth time, I was spellbound. If you want a Tudor murder thriller that will keep you guessing until the bitter end, or if you have read the earlier books of the Shardlake series, the fourth installment of C.J. Sansom’s riveting series, “Revelation” is a must-read.