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: “Henry VIII and the Men Who Made Him” by Tracy Borman

40642324The story of the reign of King Henry VIII has been told mainly through his numerous marriages and through the lives of his children. Although his immediate family was a big part of his legacy, there is much more to his story than his tempestuous relationships. There were also his legal, religious, and military exploits. The ones who were with Henry when he made these decisions were the men who were loyal to him, his counselors and companions. Their tales are often told separately, until now. Tracy Borman has decided to masterfully combine their tales to explore the life of their infamous king in her latest biography, “Henry VIII and the Men Who Made Him”. 

I have read plenty of books about Henry VIII’s wives and his children, but I haven’t read many books about the legendary man himself. I wanted a biography that explored the decisions he made in his life and the men who helped him along the way. That is exactly what Borman delivered in this biography that is bountiful with the information that it provides. 

Like any good biography, Borman begins by exploring Henry VIII’s birth and childhood. This is actually a significant time in his life and in the development of the future king of England. Growing up as the second son, Henry VIII was not destined to be king, but when his older brother Arthur tragically passed away, everything changed and Henry was thrust into a life of training to become king. He was constantly living in the shadow of his father and once he became king, he tried to outshine Henry VII.

Once he became king, Henry surrounded himself with men, both of royal birth and humble origins, to help run England. Some of the men that Borman included are Charles Brandon, Cardinal Wolsey, Sir Francis Bryan, Thomas More, Thomas Cromwell, Thomas Cranmer, Thomas Wroithesley, and Thomas Howard. Relatively familiar names for those who have studied the Tudors before and understand the significance of their roles in the Tudor court. However, Borman also includes the stories of men who did their best work on the sidelines, like the painters, diplomats, members of his inner circle, and doctors who saw all of Henry’s triumphs and failures. 

By highlighting the men that Borman did, she gives her audience a fresh perspective on such an infamous figure in history. He was a complex figure who could change his mind at a drop of the hat. These men knew how to navigate the dangerous situations that they were thrust into in order to make sure that their master’s orders were carried out. Of course, some went above the call of duty and others lost their lives to achieve their goals. 

This was the first book that I have read by Tracy Borman and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Her writing style was so engaging that I did not want this book to end. I thought I knew a lot about Henry VIII and his men, but “Henry VIII and the Men who Made Him” still provided new facts that surprised me. If you want to read a biography about Henry VIII that gives a fresh and innovative look into his life, I highly recommend you read this book.