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.

Biography: William Shakespeare

800px-Shakespeare(Baptized April 26, 1564- Died April 23, 1616)
Son of John Shakespeare and Mary Arden.
Married to Anne Hathaway.
Father of Susanna Hall, Hamnet Shakespeare, and Judith Quiney.
William Shakespeare was a poet and playwright. He is regarded as one of the greatest writers of all of English History and one of the greatest dramatists of all time.

William Shakespeare was born to John Shakespeare and his wife Mary Arden in Stratford-upon-Avon. We do not know his exact birth date, but many believe that he was born on St. George’s day, which is April 23rd because he was baptized on April 26, 1564. His father John Shakespeare was an alderman and a successful glover while his mother, Mary Arden, was the daughter of a successful landowning farmer. We believe that William Shakespeare went to King’s New School, which was a free chartered grammar school that was located in Stratford. It is here where Shakespeare learned Latin and his passion for the theatre. Since he was a commoner, there is no record of him ever going to university, which was a luxury that was reserved for upper-class families.

At the age of 18, William Shakespeare married Anne Hathaway, who at the time was 26 years old. The marriage licence was issued on November 27, 1582. At the time of their marriage, Anne was already pregnant with their first child, Susanna, who was baptized on May 26, 1583. Two years later, William and Anne welcomed twins Hamnet (son) and Judith (daughter), in 1585. They were baptized on February 2, 1585. Unfortunately, Hamnet would tragically die at the age of 11 from an unknown cause and he was buried on August 11, 1596.

After the birth of his twins in 1585, there are not many historical records about Shakespeare’s life until 1592. These years are known as “Shakespeare’s Lost Years” and many stories have emerged about what he supposedly had done during this time. One of the stories states that Shakespeare was in Stratford to avoid persecution for deer poaching. Another claims that he was a schoolmaster for some time. The problem with these stories is that there is no evidence to support them. We do not know what Shakespeare was doing during these years.

Shakespeare’s plays started to appear in London theaters in 1592, but we do not know when his writing career actually began. He was well known just enough for him to be attacked in newspapers. After 1594, Shakespeare’s plays were performed only by the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, a company owned by a group of players, including Shakespeare, that soon became the leading playing company in London. After the death of Queen Elizabeth in 1603, the company was awarded a royal patent by the new King James I, and changed its name to the King’s Men.

In 1599, Shakespeare and others purchased some land near the river Thames and created the Globe Theatre and in 1608, the group was able to take over the Blackfriars indoor theatre. Shakespeare was able to become a very wealthy man and was able to own property in both London and Stratford, but he preferred to live in London. In 1594, the first known quartos of Shakespeare’s plays were published, solidifying his reputation and by 1598, his name became the selling point in new productions. He gained a reputation of not only being a talented actor but a playwright as well.

In 1609, London suffered from the bubonic plague and in 1610, Shakespeare decided to retire from public life, which was extremely unusual. This, however, did not mean that he was not busy. Shakespeare is known to have collaborated with other playwrights like John Fletcher. William Shakespeare died on April 23, 1616 and was buried at the Holy Trinity Church in Stratford.

In total, Shakespeare is known to have written at least 38 plays and over 150 poems, both long and short. If you would like to read more about his works, The Folger Shakespeare Library is a fantastic place to start: https://www.folger.edu/shakespeares-works

Sources:
https://www.shakespeare.org.uk/explore-shakespeare/shakespedia/?gclid=CjwKCAjwxILdBRBqEiwAHL2R84IxV7c3RHGPLkDwe8371g3ZF-p8i_7t0Xp314sNrSi3lF04CxIfShoCeuMQAvD_BwE
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Shakespeare
https://www.williamshakespeare.net/
https://www.folger.edu/shakespeares-works