Book Review: “Timeless Falcon- Volume One” by Phillipa Vincent- Connolly

53298476._SY475_Have you ever wondered what it would be like to travel into the past? You could interact with your favorite historical figures and truly understand what they were like. You could dine like a king or a commoner, dress to impress and experience everyday life. There would be risks involved, but any history nerd might jump at the chance to explore the past. One lucky history student named Beth Wickers discovers that a ring in her professor’s office allows her to travel back into the past to visit her favorite historical icon, Anne Boleyn. Can Beth help Anne to survive the dangerous Tudor court of Henry VIII? Follow Beth’s adventures in Tudor England in Phillipa Vincent-Connolly’s first historical fiction novel, “Timeless Falcon- Volume One”.

I would like to thank Phillipa Vincent-Connolly for sending me a copy of this book. I was a bit skeptical at first about a historical fiction novel that involved time travel, but it did sound intriguing so I decided to give it a try.

We are first introduced to Beth Wickers as she is experiencing a typical day at her university, studying and attending lectures by Professor Marshall. She finds herself going into Professor Marshall’s office where she finds an extraordinary ring that allows Beth to go back in time, to 1522. There, she finds herself in the colorful home of the Boleyn family, Hever Castle. It all seems like a fanciful dream, that is until Beth encounters the legend herself, Anne Boleyn.

While their first encounter is indeed memorable, I do have some concerns with it, especially when it comes to the time travel idea. My main concerns are that Beth mentions to Anne that she is from the future and she allows Anne to handle objects from the twenty-first century. This is probably me just being nit-picky, but as someone who is a fan of the idea of time travel, I do have issues when a character from one time period flat out says that they are from the future to someone from the past, not to mention allowing them to interact with objects from the future. My understanding is that with time travel, those from the future should be inconspicuous, but in this case, it does work.

Besides the logistics of time travel, I found this story rather enjoyable. It is a charming tale of when a 21st-century girl is thrown into the Tudor era. Her interactions with the past and how she copes with it all is thrilling as you wonder if she will ever get back to her own time and if she can help those who she holds dear. I love how Connolly creates two believable worlds and a protagonist who is so relatable. Beth’s interactions with her family and friends in her time paralleled the interactions with the Boleyn family. I loved how the Boleyns seemed like another family for Beth; Thomas Boleyn welcoming Beth into his home, kind Lady Boleyn, her complex relationship with the ever-charming George Boleyn, and her friendship with Anne that truly lasts centuries. We also see Beth interacting with other famous figures like Jane Parker, Mary Boleyn, Thomas Wolsey, Katherine of Aragon, and the big man himself, King Henry VIII.

I was not sure about this novel when I first read the description because of the time travel element, however, I think it was a delightful read. I think Beth was such a relatable heroine for so many fellow history nerds who would just want to protect their favorite historical figure from any harm. This book will make you question whether you would make the same decisions that Beth does and whether you can protect the integrity of the past. If you want a historical fiction novel about the Tudors that is fun and unlike any novel you have read before, check out, “Timeless Falcon- Volume One” by Phillipa Vincent-Connolly. I am looking forward to the next volume to see how far Beth will travel into the past.

Book Review: “Drake -Tudor Corsair” by Tony Riches

54845924._SY475_When we think of pirates, we tend to think of Caribbean pirates that are popular in fiction and in movies. They are swashbuckling rogues who are only looking out for themselves, booze, and treasure. We tend to think about the 1600s-1800s as the height of piracy on the open seas, but there were pirates that existed even earlier than that. In England, they were known as corsairs, and one of the best during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I was the suave and debonair Sir Francis Drake. Although he did circumnavigate the world and helped the English defeat the Spanish Armada, his story is rarely told in novels. That is until now. In the first book in his Elizabethan series, Tony Riches takes on the challenge to explore what Drake’s life was like and what kinds of adventures he took in order to protect his beloved homeland. This is Tony Riches’ latest novel, “Drake- Tudor Corsair”.

I would like to thank Tony Riches for sending me a copy of his latest novel. I have enjoyed Tony’s novels in the past and when I found out that he was doing an Elizabethan series and had a new book about Sir Francis Drake, I knew I wanted to read it. I did not know much about Sir Francis Drake and his adventures, except that he traveled the world and helped defeat the Spanish Armada before I read this book so I was excited to learn more.

We are introduced to Francis Drake when he is a young lad, dreaming of adventure and far away lands. He wants to sail the high seas, but things are not as picture-perfect as he imagined. He is involved in the slave trade, which is something that he comes to deplore later in life. Drake tries to think about the well-being of the slaves and will become friends with a former slave named Diego. However, Drake does contradict his own beliefs when it comes to slavery and taking someone’s life when his beloved country England is in danger from the Spanish, who he finds diabolical and does not mind attacking them whenever he discovers the location of their ships. This complex dynamic makes him more of a believable, three-dimensional character.

At the heart of this novel is the countless adventures Drake and his crew of corsairs partake in on different ships, including the famous The Golden Hind. As a connoisseur of Tony Riches’ novels, I know that he doesn’t do a ton of action sequences in his novel as he tends to focus on the relationships between characters, yet he is able to transport the reader into high action battle scenes where you wonder if Drake and his crew will survive. Since many Tudor novels tend to focus on England and Europe during the reign of this infamous dynasty, it is a breath of fresh air to explore the world with Drake and his men. Whether it is fighting the Spanish sailors or fighting indigenous people from far away lands, there is always a perilous adventure for Drake and his crew to embark on. What never changes is Drake’s faith and how his religious views are a constant comfort to his even when things become dire.

If I did have a small area of concern it would be that Riches does include modern names for locations and items found around the world so that modern readers would understand what is going on. I am not sure if the factual Francis Drake and his crew knew the names of these locations and mysterious objects while they were traveling or if the names came afterward.

Like any stellar novel by Tony Riches, he does focus on Drake’s relationships with the people who are closest to him. Drake was married to two different women, Mary and Elizabeth, and it is quite interesting to see how both women react differently to his life full of risk and danger on the high seas. Then there are his relationships in the Elizabethan court. Of course, there is his relationship with Queen Elizabeth I, since he is considered to be one of her favorites at court, yet it is not always smooth sailing for Drake. He also interacts quite a bit with William Cecil and Sir Francis Walsingham to make sure England is secure. Drake wants to be included in court life, but although he looks the part, he knows that he will never be one of the colorful courtiers.

Francis Drake has always been a side character, never the gallant corsair hero. Tony Riches has changed all of that. He has thrown open the doors to a colorful and treacherous world of the seas with his first book in the Elizabethan series. Drake is so real and raw. You can understand why he made the decisions that he did to protect his crew and his homeland. This is an absolutely captivating read that will bring the adventures of this distinguished Elizabethan corsair to life. If you want an enthralling Tudor historical fiction novel that takes you to places unknown and where there are dangers galore with a caring and charismatic hero at the heart of all of the adventures, I highly recommend you read Tony Riches’ latest novel, “Drake- Tudor Corsair”. A true triumph and a brilliant way to start a brand new series. I cannot wait for the second novel in this Elizabethan series.

 

 

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.

Guest Post: Understanding the Life of Francis Drake: by Tony Riches, Author of Drake – Tudor Corsair

Statue_of_Drake,_Plymouth_HoeTwo things I remember being taught about Francis Drake at school are he was the first British man to sail around the world, and that he nonchalantly played a game of bowls as the Spanish Armada sailed up the British Channel in 1588.

It’s true that Drake recreated the Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan’s circumnavigation – although unlike Magellan, he survived being attacked by hostile islanders, and lived to tell the tale.

As for his game of bowls, there was a bowling green at his manor house, but the story first appeared thirty-seven years after the Armada. From what we know of the tide and weather on that day, Drake’s casual behaviour may well have been justified, but I believe it’s all part of the myth around Drake’s life, which he had good reason to encourage.

I’d been planning an Elizabethan series for some time, as my aim is to tell the stories of the Tudors from Owen Tudor’s first meeting with Queen Catherine of Valois through to the death of Queen Elizabeth.

I decided to show the fascinating world of the Elizabethan court through the eyes of the queen’s favourite courtiers, starting with Francis Drake. I’ve enjoyed tracking down primary sources to uncover the truth of Drake’s story – and discovering the complex man behind the myths.

The scale of his achievement was brought into focus for me when I visited the replica of the Golden Hinde – Drake’s flagship, and the only one to survive his circumnavigation. Made to the same measurements as the original, the replica is only 121 ft 4 in length, and must have seemed vulnerable in the many storms Drake encountered.

DrakeMonumentTavistockAnother popular belief is that Drake was the hero of the defeat of the Spanish Armada. Although he was made vice-admiral of the English fleet sent out to fight the Armada, Drake spotted a damaged galleon falling behind, and couldn’t resist boarding her. The first captured ship of the Armada, the Nuestra Señora del Rosario (Our Lady of the Rosary) was commanded by the Spanish Admiral General Don Pedro de Valdés, and was taken as a prize.

Francis Drake was a self-made man, who built his fortune by discovering the routes used by the Spanish to transport vast quantities of gold and silver. He had a special relationship with Queen Elizabeth, and they spent long hours in private meetings, yet was looked down on by the nobility even after he was knighted. His story is one of the great adventures of Tudor history.

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1564: Devon sailor Francis Drake sets out on a journey of adventure.

Drake learns of routes used to transport Spanish silver and gold, and risks his life in an audacious plan to steal a fortune.

Queen Elizabeth is intrigued by Drake and secretly encourages his piracy. Her unlikely champion becomes a national hero, sailing around the world in the Golden Hind and attacking the Spanish fleet.

King Philip of Spain has enough of Drake’s plunder and orders an armada to threaten the future of England.

Drake – Tudor Corsair continues the story of the Tudors, which began with Owen Tudor in book one of the Tudor trilogy.

Tony Riches

Tony Riches is a full-time UK author of best-selling historical fiction. He Tony Riches Author (1)lives in Pembrokeshire, West Wales and is a specialist in the history of the Tudors. For more information about Tony’s books please visit his website tonyriches.com and his blog, The Writing Desk and find him on Facebook and Twitter @tonyriches

Drake – Tudor Corsair is available in paperback and eBook editions from:

Amazon US https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08FCTYQF4
Amazon UK https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B08FCTYQF4
Amazon CA https://www.amazon.ca/dp/B08FCTYQF4
Amazon AU https://www.amazon.com.au/dp/B08FCTYQF4

Author Links:

Website: https://www.tonyriches.com
Writing blog: https://tonyriches.blogspot.com
Twitter: https://twitter.com/tonyriches
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/tonyriches.author
Podcasts: https://tonyriches.podbean.com
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/5604088.Tony_Riches

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.

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: “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.