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

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The death of King Henry VIII has left his young son, Edward, as the new King of England. In 1549, Protestantism is on the rise and Lord Somerset is the Lord Protector for the young king. However, the people are not pleased with their treatment compared to the lifestyle of the gentry, causing many rebellions to sprout along the countryside. The mysterious death of a Boleyn relation of Lady Elizabeth has led Matthew Shardlake on a collision course with one of the major rebellions and to be reunited with an old friend, Jack Barak. Can Shardlake solve the mystery and find out where he truly belongs before time runs out? This is the scenario C.J. Sansom has chosen for his final, for now, book in the Shardlake series, “Tombland”.

To be honest, this was such a bittersweet read for me. I have grown to love Sansom’s writing style and his colorful cast of characters. I did not want to say goodbye. I savored every minute, even though it took me a bit longer to read than the other books in this amazing series.

We join Matthew Shardlake in his latest job, working for Lady Elizabeth when she gives him a new case to investigate. A distant relative of Elizabeth, one Edith Boleyn, has been found murdered and her ex-husband John Boleyn is accused of committing the heinous crime. We are introduced to John’s twin sons, who are the antithesis of charming, his curmudgeon of a father-in-law, and his much younger but devoted second wife. While Shardlake and Nicholas Overton dive into this case, they have the great pleasure of meeting up with everyone’s favorite rogue turned family man, Jack Barak, who is now working for the Assizes in Norwich.

As things heat up with this brand new case, Shardlake, Overton, and Barak are swept into a rebellion camp, led by the infamous yeoman Robert Kett. This is where this book truly shines. For many of us who study the Tudors, rebellions like Kett’s rebellion are just events that are briefly mentioned. Sansom dives into the life of the rebels in the camps to explore what it was like. How they were organized. How they were trained to fight. What they stood for and where they stood on religious issues. I never really considered the feelings of the rebels, but Sansom made me sympathetic to their cause and I understood why Shardlake and Barak found the rebellion so appealing.

It did feel like the murder case and the rebel storylines were two separate plots, but Sansom was able to masterfully combine the two to create a thrilling conclusion to this delightful series. If I did have a problem with this particular title it would be that the pace was a bit slower than the other books in the series. I was wondering if Shardlake was ever going to solve the Boleyn mystery, but of course, he does spectacularly.

There is always a concern with a fabulous series with how the author will end it. Will it satisfy the readers and their expectations. I can’t speak for every Shardlake fan, but I was thoroughly engrossed with this series and the ending was perfection. If this is indeed the last Shardlake adventure, it was truly a ride I will never forget. If you are a Shardlake fan or you want a remarkable novel about the Kett’s rebellion, “Tombland” by C.J. Sansom is the book for you. A truly mesmerizing culmination for a dazzling 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: “The Colour of Shadows” by Toni Mount

cover_proof crop2The year is 1479, and Richard III is still the Duke of Gloucester. Peace reigns throughout England as Edward IV continues his second reign as king, and for Sebastian Foxley and his household, life is hectic yet thrilling with new projects for his workshop and his family growing. But life has a way of changing rather quickly. When a young boy is found dead in Sebastian’s studio, and another goes missing, the investigation into both cases takes Foxley and those close to him into the nefarious underworld of Bankside and the mysterious The Mermaid Tavern. Can they shed some light into this dark world of shadows to uncover the truth in time to save a life? This is the premise of the latest Seb Foxley mystery by Toni Mount, “The Colour of Shadows.”

I would like to thank Toni Mount for sending a copy of this novel. I will be honest. This is my first Seb Foxley mystery ( I know, I am late to the party since this is the eighth book in the series), but after reading this book, I want to go back and read the series from the beginning.

Since this is my first Seb Foxley novel, I did struggle a bit, in the beginning, to figure out the relationships between these colorful characters. Mount does include elements of previous stories in the dialogue between certain characters that intrigued me. Once I did figure out who these characters were, I feel in love with each and every one of them.

The thing about the Seb Foxley mystery series is that the main characters are average English citizens in the 15th century, focusing heavily on the Wars of the Roses period. This is somewhat unusual since many novels about 15th century England tend to focus on the royal families of York, Lancaster, and Tudor. What Mount has does is simply remarkable by creating such complex and lovable characters. Seb and his wife Emily bickering back and forth in a loving matter while their young family continues to grow. Adam, Seb’s cousin and closest friend who is always there to lend a helping hand. The kind and hardworking Rose who works hard to maintain order in the Foxley household. Tom, the rebellious scamp who believes that everything in life should be given to him on a silver platter. Kate and Jack, the naive youngsters who want to grow up quickly. And of course, the lovable four-legged friend, Gawain, the dog, who is always ready for treats and adventures.

Mount’s world building is, in a word, stunning. The only person I could compare it to is C.J. Sansom and his Shardlake series. I was left mesmerized by how Mount brought her knowledge of the medieval world into this novel to create a believable story. From the typical family life of the Foxley family to the education system, and of course, the seedy and shady underworld of Bankside and The Mermaid Tavern, Mount made medieval London feel so real. The details are impeccably written that I forgot that I was reading a novel.

I did not want this novel to end. Since this was my first Seb Foxley book, I did not know what to expect, but I fell in love with this series and these characters. Mount is a master at making characters feel like real people. I honestly cannot wait to start reading this series from the very beginning to explore Seb Foxley’s world even further. If you want a sublime book to escape into the medieval world or if you are a fan of the Seb Foxley series, I highly recommend you read, “The Colour of Shadows” by Toni Mount. A truly imaginative work of art that you will not want to leave.

Book Review: “The Boy King” by Janet Wertman

54464902 (1)In 1547, young Prince Edward is having the time of his life studying and hoping to one day take part in a tournament. He has not a care in the world. That is until his beloved father King Henry VIII passes away, and the 9-year-old boy is now Edward VI, King of England. He must navigate family drama between his older half-sister Mary Tudor and his uncles, Edward and Thomas Seymour while maintaining order throughout the kingdom. To top it all off, he is trying to reform the entire country and convert Catholics into the Protestant faith. His short life and reign are portrayed in Janet Wertman’s third book in The Seymour Saga, “The Boy King”.

I would like to thank Janet Wertman for sending a copy of her latest novel. I have read the first two novels in this saga, “Jane the Quene” and “The Path to Somerset,” so I knew that I wanted to read “The Boy King”. I have not read many novels that feature Edward VI as the protagonist, so I was intrigued by the concept.

Wertman divides her novel between two separate narrators, Edward, and his half-sister Mary. At first, I did not understand why she included Mary in a novel about Edward, but as the story progressed, it became crystal clear. At the heart of this novel is the struggle between Protestantism and Catholicism in England during Edward’s reign. Mary and Edward may seem like opposites when it comes to the religious spectrum, making them mortal enemies, but the way Wertman portrays them shows that they were concerned about each other’s well being, even if they did not understand each other. Mary acts in a motherly role when it comes to her criticism of Edward’s religious changes.

It was not just the rivalry with Mary that Edward had to deal with; there was also the rivalry between his uncles and the men on his Regency council. Edward and Thomas Seymour’s rivalry is legendary and has been portrayed in history books and historical fiction in many different ways. However, what puts Wertman’s narrative of the brothers’ battle for power apart from others is the way that she shows how Edward might have felt about his uncles and their falls from grace. Another court rivalry happening is between his uncle Edward Seymour, 1st Duke of Somerset, and John Dudley, 1st Duke of Northumberland. Each man fights for the right to be the young king’s Lord Protector, which leads to one of them rebelling and being beheaded for treason. It is this execution that will haunt him for the rest of his life. I find it fascinating that throughout this story, Edward is striving to be like his father, yet he mourns for the mother that he never had a chance to meet, Jane Seymour.

The conclusion to The Seymour Saga is a sheer delight. Wertman has described the rise and the fall of the Seymour family in the Tudor dynasty masterfully. Throughout this novel, you witness Edward growing from a timid boy who has to rely on others to a proud and confident king who knows exactly what he wants for his kingdom. I think that what Wertman has created with her Seymour Saga is a magnificent window into the lives of the Seymour family, and “The Boy King” is the piece de resistance of the entire series. If you have enjoyed The Seymour Saga so far or you want a stand-alone novel about Edward VI, “The Boy King” by Janet Wertman is the perfect novel for you to read.

Guest Post: “The Colour of Shadows” Book Tour- Children’s Early Education in Medieval and Tudor England by Toni Mount

cover_proof crop2I am pleased to welcome Toni Mount back to my blog today as a stop in her The Colour of Shadows Book Tour. The Colour of Shadows is her eighth Sebastian Foxley murder mystery. Today, Toni will be discussing Children’s Education in Medieval and Tudor England. 

In my new Sebastian Foxley murder-mystery novel The Colour of Shadows, set in medieval London, some of the action involves a young scholar, Will Thatcher, studying at St Paul’s Song School in London. Song schools trained choristers – hence the name – for the cathedral to which they were attached. Since all the anthems and responses would be in Latin, this language was taught. In fact, children weren’t permitted even to chat with each other in English and everything was conducted in Latin. The ultimate intention was that every schoolboy would eventually become a cleric, priest, monk, or lawyer; professions carried out mostly in Latin, so an early grounding was vital. 

 But a child’s education began at home. By the time a boy – and the song school’s were always boys only – went to school, aged about seven, he should already know a few basics, so how did adults regard children’s early education in the fifteenth and sixteenth century? What was considered to be the correct way of raising and training children? Thomas Tusser, the Tudor commentator who generally gave parents good and sensible advice, as would have been applicable for the fifteenth century too, had this to say [I’ve modernised the spelling]:

We find it not spoken so often for nought,

That children were better unborn than untaught,

Some cockneys with cocking are made very fools,

Fit neither for prentice, for plough, nor for schools.

Teach child to ask blessing, serve God, and to church,

Then bless as a mother, else bless him with birch.

Thou housewife thus doing, what further shall need?

But all men to call thee good mother indeed.

This fascinating passage covers all that was required in educating a young child – a task undertaken most usually by its mother or, perhaps, by its nurse, if the mother wasn’t around. 

Cockney. We all know the word and these days we often use it to describe a Londoner. It used to be a little more specific, applying only to those born within hearing distance of the bells of St-Mary-le-Bow church in the city. However, as you’ll realise from Tusser’s instructions above, a ‘cockney’ was originally something very different and nothing to do with being born in London. A cockney was a boy-child, spoilt and coddled and therefore effeminate. ‘Cocking Mams’ were over-indulgent mothers whose children would be unsuited in future to being apprenticed, working the land, or even going to school. So Rule no.1 was ‘Do not indulge the child.’

 The first thing a child had to learn was the Lord’s Prayer or Paternoster, the Creed or Credo and, until the Reformation, when England became Protestant, the Hail Mary or Ave Maria. The Creed was the litany recited at mass, beginning ‘I believe in one God…’ At a baby’s baptism, the godparents had to promise, not only to keep their godchild safe ‘from the perils of fire and water’ but to teach him these basic recitations of the Christian faith. Since medieval times, these words, originally in Latin and often together with a basic ABC and numbers, were written on horn books. These weren’t really books at all but a sheet of parchment (later paper), covered with a transparent layer of horn to protect it, put in a wooden frame, shaped like a small, square table-tennis bat, complete with a handle, so the child could hold it easily. By Tudor times, they were more often written in English but these hard-wearing teaching aids often passed down the generations and were still popular in the eighteenth century.

Incidentally: a few words about godparents. From medieval times, child-birth had been a women-only affair. The mother might be in labour for days and need every encouragement from her female relatives, friends, and neighbours. These women also had to be on hand to stand as godparents at short notice, if the baby seemed unlikely to live and required immediate baptism. Godparents were also known as ‘godsibs’ or siblings in God. As you can imagine, a group of women, sitting around, waiting for days, perhaps, with not much to do, did a great deal of chatting and, as they ran out of relevant topics to discuss, probably resorted to exchanging rumours. This activity became known as ‘godsibing’ or – as we would call it – gossiping.

Children as young as three or four would be expected to attend church and to understand when to bow their heads or kneel in prayer and to reverence God. They would also join in family prayers with the household as often as the religious faith of the head of the house required. Many Protestant families took the act of reading aloud from the English Bible very seriously. It might be done daily or else, most certainly, on the Lord’s Day – Sunday. Thus, Rule no.2 was ‘Teach the child to respect God and the Church’.

Thomas Tusser’s final instruction would not be appreciated today: the use of corporal punishment. Beating children is now unlawful in most modern societies but the Tudors would have been dismayed by our idea. ‘Bless him with birch’, as Tusser said. In other words, a good thrashing never did anyone any harm and to ‘spare the rod’ was to ‘spoil the child’, as the Bible said. In the Book of Proverbs 13: 24, it states: ‘He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is careful to discipline him’. The Tudors certainly believed this. Physical discipline was thought vital to achieving both learning and good behaviour and children were expected to take it with good grace, even welcoming it as just one aspect of the best educational methods. It would teach them to respect authority. If a child misbehaved, there was no point in trying to reason with him because children were illogical creatures, as yet incapable of rationalising what was good conduct and what was bad. So Rule no.3 was ‘Do not be lenient: a beating does far more good than harm and is vital to a child’s education.’

One last thing: a medieval or Tudor parent would never have told a child that it was naughty. In those days the word meant you were ‘as nothing’ (naught), so wicked you were less than human. It was a term applied to murders. Shakespeare’s Macbeth was naughty; unruly toddlers were not.

Further reading:

Elizabeth Norton’s ‘The Lives of Tudor Women’ Head of Zeus, 2016.  

For images of horn books see https://www.pinterest.co.uk/pin/172262754469747824/

The Colour of Shadows

When Seb Foxley discovers a child’s body in his workshop and another lad goes missing, our medieval sleuth is perplexed at every turn. His investigations take him across London Bridge to Bankside, where he becomes embroiled in the sinister shadows of the city’s underworld. Bankside is a labyrinth of depravity and crime where every harlot intends the downfall of respectable men and every scoundrel has a secret. In a netherworld unlike anything he’s experienced before, can Seb unravel the murky mysteries of The Mermaid Tavern, recover the stolen lad and restore him to his family? 

About the Author- Toni Mount

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I’m an author, a history teacher, an experienced speaker – and an enthusiastic life-long-learner. I’m a member of the Research Committee of the Richard III Society and a library volunteer where I lead a Creative Writing group. I regularly give talks to groups and societies and attend history events as a costumed interpreter. I write for a variety of history magazines and have created seven online courses for www.MedievalCourses.com

I earned my Masters Degree by Research from the University of Kent in 2009 through study of a medieval medical manuscript held at the Wellcome Library in London. My BA (with First-class Honours), my Diploma in Literature and Creative Writing and my Diploma in European Humanities are from the Open University. My Cert. Ed (in Post-Compulsory Education and Training) is from the University of Greenwich.

I have a strong online following with my various social media and web pages:

www.ToniMount.com

www.SebastianFoxley.com

www.facebook.com/toni.mount.10

www.facebook.com/medievalengland

www.facebook.com/medievalmedicine

www.facebook.com/sebfoxley

www.twitter.com/tonihistorian

My works to date include:

Self-Published

2007 The Medieval Housewife and Women of the Middle-ages

2009 (updated 2015) Richard III King of Controversy

2013 Dare they be Doctors.

Amberley Publishing

2014 (Hb) Everyday Life in Medieval London

2015 (Hb) Dragon’s Blood and Willow Bark: the mysteries of medieval medicine

2015 (Pb) The Medieval Housewife: & Other Women of the Middle Ages

2015 (Pb) Everyday Life in Medieval London 

2016 (Pb) Medieval Medicine: Its Mysteries and Science (the renamed paperback version of Dragon’s Blood & Willow Bark)

2016 (Hb) A Year in the Life of Medieval England

2019 (Pb) A Year in the Life of Medieval England

2020 (Hb) The World of Isaac Newton

Pen & Sword

2021 (Pb) How to survive in Medieval England

2021 (Pb) An affectionate look at sex in medieval England

MadeGlobal Publishing

The Sebastian Foxley Medieval Murder Mysteries series:

2016 The Colour of Poison

2016 The Colour of Gold

2017 The Colour of Cold Blood

2017 The Colour of Betrayal

2018 The Colour of Murder

2018 The Colour of Death

2019 The Colour of Lies

2020 The Colour of Shadows

2018 The Death Collector (A Victorian Melodrama)

MedievalCourses.com

2015 Everyday Life of Medieval Folk

2015 Heroes and Villains

2016 Richard III and the Wars of the Roses

2016 Warrior Kings of England: The Story of the Plantagenet Dynasty

2017 Crime and Punishment

2017 The English Reformation: A Religious Revolution

2018 The Roles of Medieval and Tudor Women

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

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The year is 1545 and King Henry VIII has declared war on the French. However, things do not go well when Henry VIII’s invasion of France is an epic failure and the French decide to retaliate by sending a mighty fleet to invade England. Catherine Parr is on a mission of her own and enlists the help of Matthew Shardlake and his assistant Jack Barak to investigate the wardship of Hugh Curtey, who is under the protection of Sir Nicholas Hobbey. Of course, Shardlake never makes anything easy for himself and he takes another case of Ellen Fettiplace, a woman he met while at Bedlam. With the prospect of a French invasion looming over their head, can Shardlake and Barak solve both cases before the French and the English can start fighting? This is the scenario of C.J. Sansom’s fifth Shardlake mystery, “Heartstone”.

Unlike the fourth book, I did not know what the title of this book was referring to so I was going into this one blind, which I love. All I knew was that it involved Shardlake and Barak, so I had to jump in. I don’t usually fangirl over historical fiction characters, but Sansom has made me love the escapades of Shardlake and Barak.

We dive into this particular novel with a rather happy, yet stressful time for Barak and his wife Tamasin. They are expecting their second child any day now, which after the events of “Revelation” you are rooting for them. Of course, being Barak, he causes a bit of trouble with a military officer and finds himself in a bind. Luckily, it is at this time that Matthew gets a case from his new patron, Catherine Parr, and he desperately needs Barak’s help. The case involves a ward named Hugh Curtey and his estates possibly being mismanaged by his protector Sir Nicholas Hobbey. Matthew takes this case and decides that while he is in the area, he will explore the mysterious back story of a woman who he befriended while working at Bedlam a few years ago, Ellen Fettiplace.

These two cases seem like they could not be more different, however, they push Shardlake and Barak on a collision course with Shardlake’s arch-nemesis, Sir Richard Rich. I did not like Richard Rich in the previous novels, but the way Sansom portrayed him in this one made my skin crawl and now I loath him. His actions and the actions of others involved in both cases lead to Shardlake and Barak becoming mixed in the middle of the battle between the French and the English. The way that Sansom times the cases to coincide with the sinking of The Mary Rose is nothing short of brilliant.

If I did have a concern about this novel, I would say that the pacing in the middle was a bit slower than what I was anticipating. That is not to say that it distracted me, but it kept me guessing what Sansom had in store for Shardlake and Barak. I have become attached to these characters and every time they are put in mortal danger, I hope that they do not die.
Sansom can blend the two cases with military movements and the French invasion to heighten the danger and intrigue. Just when I think Sansom cannot do anything to love his bold and daring characters, he writes this novel. I am excited to see what kind of dangerous mission Shardlake and Barak will take on next, but I know that it means that I will have to say goodbye to these characters sooner, and I am not ready to be done with the Shardlake mysteries and these wonderful characters just yet. If you are like me and are addicted to the Shardlake mysteries, you need to read, “Heartstone” by C.J. Sansom.

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.

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

27151979When one thinks about a royal Progress, we often think about the glitz and glam of the royal family traversing the entire country at a leisurely rate to inspire awe for their subjects. However, the Progress of 1541, when Henry VIII and his fifth wife Catherine Howard traveled to the hostile northern part of England, was anything but a casual visit. It was very political as Henry was trying to make the North submit to him after the Pilgrimage of Grace while at the same time he was waiting for a meeting with King James V of Scotland. It is the city of York and during this important Progress that C.J. Sansom shapes his latest adventure with his hunchback lawyer and part-time detective, Matthew Shardlake, in book three of the delightful Shardlake series, “Sovereign”.

We join Matthew Shardlake and his dedicated assistant Jack Barak on the road to York to join the Progress to take care of local petitions for the King. They have received another complicated mission from their new boss, Archbishop Thomas Cranmer, to look after the wellbeing of a suspected conspirator in a plot to overthrow Henry VIII’s government, so that he can make it to London for further questioning. Things seem to run as smoothly as it could until a master glazer’s mysterious death reveals secrets that will send Shardlake and Barak into a deadly collision course with some of the most powerful men and women in England during this time.

Sansom has done it again. He has expanded Shardlake’s world outside of London to show that England was not all united for the Tudors. As someone who knows about the Wars of the Roses, to read Sansom’s description of the treacherous and rebellious city of York makes sense completely. It is dark and edgy while the glory of the court is on full display. To add more intrigue to this amazing novel, he adds the mystery of a certain member of the Yorkist family’s origins that could change England forever. I personally do not agree with this theory about this particular person’s origins, but it did not take away from my enjoyment of this book. It just added another layer to this enthralling tale.

Of course, since this novel touches on the relationship between Henry VIII and Catherine Howard, Sansom had to include a way for Shardlake to meet these two, as well as confront figures like Lady Rochford, Culpepper, Dereham, and of course Sir Richard Rich. The way he does this is ingenious. Sansom’s attention to details of the Progress is nothing short of extraordinary. Compared to the first two books, this one is much darker as you are unsure how Shardlake and Barak will ever get out of their dangerous situations, but that is what makes it so remarkable.

It is actually difficult for me to write this review without spoiling the ending so I will keep this short. I thought that “Dark Fire” was my favorite in the series, but now “Sovereign” reigns supreme. That might change as I read the rest of this absorbing series. I will say that if you enjoyed the first two books, you have to continue the journey with Matthew Shardlake and Jack Barak in “Sovereign” by C.J. Sansom.

Book Review: “Dark Fire” by C.J. Sansom

28280675._SY475_The year 1540 during the reign of Henry VIII was a turbulent time. Henry’s new wife, Anne of Cleves, is not exactly the person who he imagined and his eye is starting to wander to a new woman, Katherine Howard. The reformers are starting to lose favor with the king as they and Catholics alike are being executed for treason. This is the London that Matthew Shardlake, our favorite hunchback lawyer turned detective, calls home. He thinks that he has retired from his detective work and serving Thomas Cromwell, but he is sadly mistaken. His next adventure has twice the number of cases and just as much danger that makes his trip to the monastery in “Dissolution” look easy. In the second book of the Shardlake series, “Dark Fire”, C.J. Sansom turns up the heat, the action, and the danger.

We join Matthew Shardlake during a busy season in his life as a lawyer. He is working on maintaining his legal practice, and his next case is a doozy. A young girl named Elizabeth is accused of murdering her cousin and it is up to Shardlake to defend her, even when everyone believes she is guilty of the crime. Just as he is adjusting to this new case, he gets a call from his favorite person who he thought he was done dealing with for a while, Henry’s chief minister, Thomas Cromwell. Cromwell has a new case for Shardlake, to recover the lost formula for the mysterious Greek Fire, also known as Dark Fire. Cromwell knew that Shardlake would need some help with this new case, so he sends a new partner, the daring and resourceful Jack Barak. The only clue they have is someone from the Court of Augmentations found the formula in a dissolved monastery’s library, but when the person who had it and his alchemist brother are found brutally murdered, things get extremely complicated. Two separate cases that share the same deadline and the same amount of danger if Shardlake and Barak should fail to solve them. Can they solve both cases in time?

When I read the description of this book, my first impression was that C.J. Sansom was trying to cover too much in a book. I thought that there was no way that Shardlake could solve both cases in the time frame that he was given and that Sansom would focus on one case over the other. I was proven wrong as this book was beautifully balanced between the two cases while keeping the reader’s attention throughout the entire book.

Sansom made the Tudor London world come to life in this brilliant sequel. I thought the way he showed the struggle for power between those who had it and those who wanted it was masterfully done. He included some of my favorite characters from “Dissolution” in this book, which made me extremely excited and I believe that Shardlake’s new partner Barak was a stroke of genius. Their interactions were some of my favorites in this entire book and I cannot wait to see how he develops Shardlake and Barak’s partnership throughout the rest of the series.

I enjoyed this book immensely. It kept me guessing with both cases until the bitter end. There were so many twists and turns, revelations, and intrigue. There were some places where I think the pacing was a bit slower than the first book, but it did not detract from my enjoyment of this remarkable sequel. I did not want it to end because it would mean that I would have to leave this dynamic world with intriguing characters, until the next book. It was a sheer joy to dive back into Shardlake’s Tudor world and I honestly cannot wait to jump back into another Shardlake mystery. The first book made me fall in love with Shardlake, but this one made me fall in love with his Tudor world and the people around him. If you have read “Dissolution”, “Dark Fire” by C.J. Sansom is a must-read.

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

28093757._SY475_The Tudor dynasty marked tons of changes in society and religious norms. In 1537, the changes are in full force. Anne Boleyn was executed a year earlier and Henry’s third wife, Jane Seymour recently passed away after giving birth to Edward VI. Religious reformers are clashing with the Catholic Church after Henry VIII has declared himself the Supreme Head of the Church of England. Henry VIII’s reign marked the changing point in societal and religious norms, none more so than the dissolution of the monasteries. As monasteries and monks alike adjust to the new ways of life, the monastery at Scarnsea buzzes with activity and murder. Henry VIII’s right-hand man, Thomas Cromwell, sends an unlikely man to investigate the situation; the hunchback reformer lawyer, Matthew Shardlake. This is the world that C.J. Sansom has chosen to create in the first book of his Tudor mystery series, aptly named, “Dissolution”.

I will be honest. It has been a very long time since I have read a murder mystery book. I know the general format because my mom is a huge Agatha Christie and Murder She Wrote fan, but I have never really been that interested in reading this genre myself. A lot of people have recommended that I should read the Shardlake series, but no one has spoiled the series, which I am thankful for as it made reading this book extremely enjoyable.

We are introduced to our protagonist, Matthew Shardlake, as he receives a new mission from his boss, Thomas Cromwell. The commissioner that Cromwell has sent to investigate the monastery of St. Donatus at the seaside town of Scarnsea, Robin Singleton, has been found murdered. It is up to Matthew and his assistant, Mark Poer, to find out the truth to why he was murdered and which one of the monks killed him. However, things are much darker and sinister at this monastery than Matthew could ever imagine and it will test everything he believes in.

I did not know what to expect before I started reading this book, but I am so glad I decided to read it. It is simply a masterpiece of intrigue and drama. It has been a while since I have been blown away by such a vivid and dark portrayal of the Tudor world that is away from the glamorous and glittering court life that we all expect from Tudor novels. The characters are raw and real; they are not cookie-cutter characters. They show that the struggle between reform and sticking with the Catholic Church was never straight forward. The details in this book are exquisite as they are compelling. Just when you think you know who did it, Sansom throws another twist that will leave you guessing until the bitter end.

I did not want this book to end because I became so attached to the characters, which is largely due to the way Sansom wrote this first novel of the Shardlake series. It’s different from any other Tudor novel that I have ever read and I want to read the rest of the series now. I understand why people wanted me to read this book and this series. I loved reading this book. If you want a thrilling Tudor mystery to read, I highly recommend you read, “Dissolution” by C.J. Sansom.