Dark Fire by CJ Sansom – A Review

Okay so I must begin with a confession. I started the month reading Jessica Cornwall’s The Serpent Papers. I read the first half but really struggled to get into it. I found the prose difficult to follow and there was a heavy focus on alchemy, without much explanation. The blurb was brilliant, and really made me want to read it. But in reality, I wasn’t enjoying it and life is too short to plod on reading books you don’t enjoy! So, I gave my copy to my boyfriend’s boss and got started on CJ Sansom’s epic sequel to Dissolution.

There is always a worry with sequels that the story will be less enticing, new characters less likeable and that plot lines might be more predictable now you know the protagonist better. None of these apply to the brilliant Shardlake series. Matthew Shardlake is a hunchback lawyer making his living in Tudor England. He is clever, witty and extremely amiable. Dark Fire follows the reformist lawyer as he is commissioned by Thomas Cromwell to find the formula for the ultimate ancient Byzantine weapon, Dark Fire, in order to save Cromwell’s position in King Henry’s court.

Set in 1540, the hottest summer for years, Cromwell has arranged Henry VIII’s marriage to Anne of Cleves who the king instantly dislikes. In order to stay in favour and prevent a royal marriage to the opposing, pro-papist Howard family, Cromwell needs Shardlake’s quick mind to find the one thing Henry needs – protection from a Franco-Spanish invasion. Already pledged to defend a young women’s innocence in a murder trial, Shardlake has 12 days to solve Cromwell’s problem and the Wentworth murder case.

Overall, an excellent whirlwind of murder, secrets and history: Sansom’s sequel is even better than his first. Hooked from the beginning I resented having to put this down to, you know, shower, eat, sleep and work. The author’s Historical Note at the end explains the historical context and proves that he really has researched every aspect of the novel thoroughly. The perfect mix of crime, historical fiction and murder mystery!

Cannot wait to start the third!

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