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?

New Book: Robin Hood’s Widow (Book Two in the Robin Hood Trilogy) Author Q&A with Olivia Longueville and J.C. Plummer

Today, I would like to welcome Olivia Longueville and J.C. Plummer to discuss their latest book, Robin Hood’s Widow (Book Two in the Robin Hood Trilogy).

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Robin Hood has been featured in many books, movies, and television shows.  How is your trilogy different?

We have taken a fresh approach to the Robin Hood story, and we’re excited to share our vision with fans of the legendary hero.   

In our first book, Robin Hood’s Dawn, we re-imagined the origins of the Robin Hood legend, which included exploring his family dynamics: an aloof, selfish father, and a kind-hearted mother devoted to ministering to the poor.  One theme is how the consequences of immoral actions and secret sins can reverberate across generations.  This is part of Robin’s legacy from his father.

We cast Robin as a hero fighting against the tyranny of a lawless government official. When Robin is falsely accused of a shocking crime by the new Sheriff of Nottingham, he could have retreated to a safe place beyond the reach of the sheriff.  However, he feels a responsibility to the people because he believes in the intrinsic value of every human being.  Instead of running away, he stays to protect the people from the sheriff.  And this points to another theme: one person can make a difference by taking a stand for what is right.

The second book, Robin Hood’s Widow, picks up where the first book ends. Robin is alive and still with King Richard in the Holy Land, but Marian, the sheriff, and Guy of Gisborne have returned to England thinking that Robin Hood is dead.

Robin Hood’s Widow explores themes of grief and redemption while featuring Marian’s adventures as leader of the outlaws. Her story is interwoven with Robin’s quest to return home while fulfilling his obligations to King Richard.

In this book, we wanted to explore both the stages of grief and their non-linear nature. Experiencing loss and grief is not like climbing stairs; you don’t complete one stage, progress to the next, and eventually arrive at acceptance. The emotional turmoil of an earlier stage can reappear and reassert itself during the process.

That being said, this story is not sad or depressing; Robin Hood’s Widow is an optimistic tale of triumphing over adversity. 

You’ve emphasized how your Robin Hood story has been re-imagined.  Will fans of the traditional ballads still recognize this as a Robin Hood story?

There is a lot of variety in the many books and screen adaptations of the Robin Hood legend.  We wanted to create a story that was respectful towards fans of the original ballads and legends without adhering to the same storylines that have been previously written.  We hope that all Robin Hood fans will enjoy this fresh retelling of the story.

However, we felt that Marian is a character who deserves more attention.  All too often she is a background character with little to do.  With this in mind, we have focused on creating a Lady Marian who will figure more prominently in the story, especially in Robin Hood’s Widow, where she takes center stage as the leader of the outlaws. She must learn how to lead while finding clever ways to thwart the sheriff and rob those supporters of Prince John who dare enter Sherwood Forest.  We also wanted Marian to be feminine and believable as a woman of the 12th century.    

Robin Hood’s Dawn introduced many familiar characters from the Robin Hood legends: Maid Marian, Little John, Allan-a-dale, Will Scarlet, Much the Miller’s son, Guy of Gisborne, and the Sheriff of Nottingham. In Robin Hood’s Widow, Brother Tuck, a Knight Templar, will join the outlaws.

Readers will also meet real historical figures such as Richard the Lionheart, King Philippe II of France, Prince John “the Lackland,” Eleanor of Aquitaine, and many others, including Ranulphus Besace.  Who was he?  Well, he was a real person who was King Richard’s personal physician!

Do the first two books of the trilogy end in cliff-hangers? Are the books stand alone?  

We have structured the trilogy so that the books do not end in cliff-hangers, and we have endeavored to create a sense of completion in each of the books. 

Although we want readers to start with Robin Hood’s Dawn, we know that some might be more interested in Robin Hood’s Widow. Therefore, we have endeavored to provide enough information in the second book so that a new reader will not be lost.

Both Robin and Marian are guarding secrets that will be revealed in Robin Hood’s Widow!

How did each of you become interested in writing this story and working together as co-authors?

Olivia:

I love to tell stories with multi-dimensional characters.  I speak several languages, and I enjoy writing stories in different languages.  My favorite legendary hero is Robin Hood, and my favorite historical figure is Anne Boleyn.  My first novel is an English-language alternate history featuring Anne Boleyn.

The story of Robin Hood’s Widow is very special to me, and I wrote the original version after I experienced a devastating personal loss. Readers might be surprised to learn that Robin Hood’s Widow was written before Robin Hood’s Dawn!

I met Coleen (J.C.) on the Internet, and we decided to co-author a Robin Hood Trilogy with Robin Hood’s Widow as its centerpiece.  

It is amazing that we have accomplished so much even though we have never met each other in real life.  We talk on the phone and frequently exchange Skype messages and emails.  We have been working together long-distance despite living in very different time zones.

Coleen (J.C.)

I had previously done editing work for other authors, and in 2015, I was inspired to create my own stories.  

I wanted to write a book that would honor the legend of Robin Hood as a man who stood against the tyranny of a powerful government official; a man who fought for justice and fairness because he recognized the intrinsic value rooted in the humanity of all people.  

 

So, you’ve never met, you come from different countries, different cultures, and speak different languages.  How can you co-author a book?  Is it because you have similar writing styles?

Coleen:

Fortunately, Olivia is fluent in English, because that’s the only language I know!

Olivia:

We have found that we have a lot in common—especially our love of writing and of history.  We have to work hard to merge our writing styles, but we have successfully done this. 

Coleen:

That’s true.  Olivia and I have very different “voices” and writing styles.  You might even say they are nearly opposite styles.  

I write in a straightforward, expository style, with a minimum of descriptive elements and metaphorical flourishes.  I am good at explaining things, organizing ideas, and creating natural-sounding dialogue.

Olivia:

My writing is characterized by lush romanticism and passionate lyricism.  I love to create metaphors and descriptions which excite the imagination of the reader in a vivid and dramatic way.

Coleen:

In some respects, Olivia’s words are the emotional heart of the story, and my words represent the rational intellect.  Of course, it’s not quite that cut-and-dried, but it is one way to describe how two people with such different styles have come together to create Robin Hood’s Dawn and Robin Hood’s Widow

Robin Hood’s Dawn (The Robin Hood Trilogy Book 1)

England, 1154-1194
A kingdom under assault.
A conspiracy born of anarchy.
A hero standing against tyranny.

Falsely convicted of a shocking crime, Robin Fitzooth, the Earl of Huntingdon, finds refuge in Sherwood Forest and becomes Robin Hood.  Leading a band of men against the injustices of a malevolent sheriff and his henchmen, Robin begins to unravel a web of treachery threatening the English royal family. 

As shadowy forces gather to destroy the future of a nation, Robin faces deceit, betrayal, and the ravages of war as he defends his king, his country, his people, and the woman he loves from a conspiracy so diabolical, so unexpected, that the course of history hangs in the balance.

From the mists of an ancient woodland to lavish royal courts teeming with intrigue, to the exotic shores of the Holy Land—Robin Hood leads the fight in a battle between good and evil, justice and tyranny, the future and the past.

Part one of an exciting three-part retelling of the Robin Hood legend!

The Robin Hood Trilogy, Book 2 - eBookRobin Hood’s Widow (The Robin Hood Trilogy Book 2)

Robin’s duty to his king sends him on an odyssey that will unfold from the streets of Paris to the banks of the Danube.  From incredible triumphs on the battlefields of the Crusade to harrowing sea voyages to a desperate dash across the frozen landscape of Central Europe, Robin Hood must ensure that King Richard safely returns to England.

Meanwhile, the outlaws of Sherwood Forest rise again under a new leader—and she is unwavering in her pursuit of justice against the tyranny of Sheriff de Argentan.  Marian endures the heartbreak of widowhood only to find strength and purpose as she leads a small band of devoted men in her quest for vengeance while she protects Robin’s legacy.

Sir Guy of Gisborne, tormented by his conscience and enslaved by the sheriff, faces the wraith-like fury of the woman he once loved.  How do you find forgiveness when you have committed an unforgivable crime?  He must attempt a daunting journey of redemption while finding inspiration from an unexpected source.

And through it all, Robin, Marian, and Guy are entangled in a web of treachery spun by the King of France and his sinister advisor, Montlhéry, as the plot to dismantle the Angevin Empire and take the throne of England from the Plantagenets boldly continues. 

Part two of an exciting three-part retelling of the Robin Hood legend!

Robin Hood’s Return (The Robin Hood Trilogy Book 3)

Robin and Marian are finally reunited as they confront an uncertain future. 

While an increasingly reckless Prince John pursues the throne, Queen Eleanor collects an unprecedented king’s ransom. Social unrest and ruinous taxation threatens to tear England apart.

As opposing forces battle for control of the English throne, the King of France and his sinister advisor, Montlhéry, conspire to end the Plantagenet dynasty forever.

Dark secrets and unexpected revelations could destroy the future of England. The course of history hangs in the balance.

Robin and Marian must save both King Richard and Prince John. But can they prevail in the ultimate battle between the future and the past?

About the Authors

Olivia Longueville 

Olivia has always loved literature and fiction, and she is passionate about historical research, genealogy, and the arts.  She has several degrees in finance & general management from London Business School (LBS) and other universities.  At present, she helps her father run the family business.  

During her first trip to France at the age of ten, Olivia had a life-changing epiphany when she visited the magnificent Château de Fontainebleau and toured its library.  This truly transformed her life as she realized her passion for books and writing, foreshadowing her future career as a writer.  In childhood, she began writing stories and poems in different languages.  Loving writing more than anything else in her life, Olivia has resolved to devote her life to creating historical fiction novels.  She has a special interest in the history of France and England.  

Having met on the Internet, Olivia and J. C. Plummer, a writer and historian, decided to co-author The Robin Hood Trilogy.  Olivia and J. C. are retelling the Robin Hood story with an unusual and imaginative plot that is solidly grounded in 12th-century history. The trilogy incorporates twists and turns which will captivate and entertain readers.

Olivia’s social media profiles:

Personal website: http://www.olivialongueville.com/

Project website: http://www.angevinworld.com/

Twitter: @O_Longueville

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/OliviaLongueville/

Tumblr: http://www.olivia-longueville.tumblr.com/

J. C. Plummer 

J.C. Plummer (Jennie Coleen) graduated Summa Cum Laude from Washburn University with a Bachelor of Arts degree in History and Anthropology.  She later earned a Master of Science degree in Computer Information Science from Dartmouth College.

Co-authoring The Robin Hood Trilogy has merged J.C.’s passions for history, culture, and technology into one unique, exciting project.

As an author and historian, J.C.’s goal is to provide thoughtful and entertaining storytelling that honors the past, is mindful of the present, and is optimistic for the future.

J.C.’s social media profiles:

Project website: http://www.angevinworld.com/

Twitter: @JC_Plummer

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/jennie.newbrand/

 

Guest Post by Tony Riches – Telling the Stories of the Tudors

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It began with my research for a novel about the life of Henry Tudor, who like me was born in the Welsh town of Pembroke. I decided to write it as an historical fiction novel in the hope of reaching a wider audience, including those who might never read a textbook about the Tudors. I also enjoy the challenge of ‘filling the gaps’ in the historical record and bringing these men and women to life.

I’d collected more than enough material for a book – and discovered that although Henry features (with varying degrees of accuracy) in many works of fiction, there were no novels devoted to telling his amazing story. I believe this was partly because Henry had been labelled as dull and miserly, when in fact he was an extravagant gambler, who spent a fortune on clothes, knew how to broker peace and brought an end to the Wars of the Roses.

I also discovered there were no novels about Henry’s Welsh grandfather, Owen Tudor, or Owen’s son, Jasper Tudor, who helped Henry become king. The Tudor trilogy provided the perfect ‘vehicle’ for Henry to be born in the first book, ‘come of age’ in the second and become King of England in the third.

I’m pleased to say the books of the Tudor trilogy became best sellers in the US, UK, and Australia, with the final book being the only historical fiction novel shortlisted for the Amazon Kindle Storyteller award. (Henry was a runner up but I won a Kindle Oasis and a bottle of good Champagne.)

The challenge I then faced was how to follow a successful trilogy. I’d enjoyed developing the character of Henry’s daughter, Mary Tudor, and realized the story of how she became Queen of France is little known. (In the TV series ‘The Tudors’ Mary was ‘merged’ with her sister Margaret – and some people understandably confuse her with her brother’s daughter, also Mary Tudor.)

I wrote Mary – Tudor Princess, which become my best-selling book last year, then followed up with my latest book, Brandon – Tudor Knight. Readers are probably familiar with Charles Brandon’s story of how he risked everything to marry Mary Tudor against the wishes of her vengeful brother, Henry VIII. What they might not know is how Brandon found himself seriously out of his depth fighting Henry’s wars in France, or that after Mary’s death he married his fourteen-year-old ward, wealthy heiress Lady Katherine Willoughby.

Now I have two ‘sequels’ to the Tudor Trilogy, with the five books forming a series providing a continuous narrative throughout the reign of the two King Henrys. Where to go next?  All the books are now available as audiobooks and are being translated into Spanish and Italian. I’ve also been recording podcasts about the stories of the Tudors each month, (see https://tonyriches.podbean.com/.)  

I’m now enjoying researching and writing the amazing story of what became of Katherine (Willoughby) Brandon after the death of Charles. Her story deserves to be told – and leads right up to the coronation of Queen Elizabeth I and my planned next series, which will explore the fascinating world of the Elizabethan Tudors.

 

Tony Riches
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About the Author

Tony Riches is a full-time UK author of best-selling historical fiction. He lives in image2Pembrokeshire, West Wales and is a specialist in the history of the Wars of the Roses and the lives of the early Tudors. For more information about Tony’s books please visit his website tonyriches.com and his popular blog, The Writing Desk and find him on  Facebook and Twitter @tonyriches

 

 

 

 

 

Brandon – Tudor Knightimage3

By Tony Riches

New on Amazon UK and Amazon US

 

From the author of the international bestselling Tudor Trilogy comes a true story of adventure, courtly love and chivalric loyalty. 

Handsome, charismatic and a champion jouster, Sir Charles Brandon is the epitome of a Tudor Knight. A favourite of King Henry VIII, Brandon has a secret. He has fallen in love with Henry’s sister, Mary Tudor, the beautiful widowed Queen of France, and risks everything to marry her without the King’s consent.

Brandon becomes Duke of Suffolk, but his loyalty is tested fighting Henry’s wars in France. Mary’s public support for Queen Catherine of Aragon brings Brandon into dangerous conflict with the ambitious Boleyn family and the king’s new right-hand man, Thomas Cromwell. 

Torn between duty to his family and loyalty to the king, Brandon faces an impossible decision: can he accept Anne Boleyn as his new queen?