Wow. C J Sansom’s first novel in his Shardlake series is excellent. A murder mystery set in the turbulent years after Anne Boleyn’s execution and when the dissolution of corrupt monastic houses was underway, Sansom depicts a vivid world with larger than life characters.
Matthew Shardlake is a lawyer and a reformist and as such, trusted by Thomas Cromwell. Having orchestrated the fall of Henry VIII’s second and most controversial queen Cromwell had turned to rooting out papists and ensuring all holy houses swore an oath of loyalty to the king’s supremacy over their church. The murder of one of his commissioners in a monastery in Kent could draw unwanted attention and suspicion over the desired submission of the house. Enter Shardlake. In Cromwell’s favour and eager to prove his loyalty to the Vicar-General, Shardlake is dispatched along with his ward Mark Poer to seek the truth of the commissioner’s murder quickly and efficiently. However, as soon as he arrives it is clear the monastery at Scarnsea holds many secrets and lies.
Like any good murder mystery everyone is under suspicion and many clues point to different culprits. As the days pass more scandalous events occur that keep you guessing at what exactly had happened. I gasped so many times while reading and i was desperate to learn who the murderer was. The protagonist was endearing and likeable, Sansom certainly created an unforgettable narrator. He cleverly intertwines factual events with current historical theories into his fictional plot with ease. The writing was a joy to read and the expert descriptions plunge readers into the tumultuous sixteenth century.
I recommend this for anyone who enjoys historical fiction and whodunnit murder mysteries. It is not quite as fast paced as perhaps more stereotypical plots in the genre but it fits with the Shardlake’s character and the period in which it is set.
Devoured this in two sittings and cannot wait to go and buy the second in the series, Dark Fire!
Just thought I’d touch base and show you what I’m reading. As you can see, I have my hands full at the moment. It’s so nice to have such a great selection of books to dig into. I’ve just finished reading G. R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series (which is amazing by the way, and it’s amazing how many references to the English Wars of the Roses there are. Cannot wait until the next instalment!) so now I’m 100% focussed on this pile!
After finishing my degree in Early Modern History, I have decided to start reading more into Medieval history. I’m not too sure what made me do this, perhaps it was my love of Martin’s Game of Thrones, but I’m so glad I have. I started with Alison Weir’s novel of Eleanor of Aquitaine, The Captive Queen, and it just opened up a whole new world for me. I have always loved the Tudors since my secondary school history teacher taught me about Wolsey and Henry VIII with such passion. My dissertation about Anne Boleyn’s role in Wolsey’s downfall and her love affair with the king has given me some interesting ideas and theories that I’m hoping to explore in a MPhil (if i ever save up enough), but if I can’t go down that path hopefully I can detail them in a book (wishful thinking perhaps but I’m going to try!). These are tied up with certain Medieval Queens and the more I read the greedier I am about buying books that help illuminate the dark ages of English (and European) history.
In the four-hundred and seventy eight years since the death of Anne Boleyn historians are
still unable to achieve unanimity over certain aspects of her life. From her controversial love affair with the King of England to her contentious involvement in the fall of Cardinal Thomas Wolsey. Anne’s role in the early stages of Henry VIII’s Great Matter still generates heated debate. In a period where the king cradled doubts over the validity of his marriage, Anne is often depicted in two contrasting ways: she is described as either a devious temptress that seduced the king or a meek, obedient victim of factional politics. Thomas Wolsey’s dramatic fall from grace during the period of Anne’s rise in Henry VIII’s esteem is particularly interesting. It serves as an example that Anne’s role within the Henrican court during this time was not so clear cut.
Earlier this month there was a Tudor Treasures exhibition in Cambridge’s St John’s College. This was a fantastic opportunity to see original Tudor items that otherwise are unavailable for viewing. The main reason I was so excited was the inclusion of Henry VIII’s love letters to Anne Boleyn.
Unfortunately due to Henry’s purge of all things relating to Anne after her execution, very few sources remain that could enlighten us about her life and her relationship with Henry. However, these love letters survived, kept safe in the Vatican archives whilst her responses were destroyed in England. Despite only Henry’s words surviving, they offer us a glimpse of her early relationship with the king and help us discover whether she was the one who refused to share his bed until she was queen or whether it was Henry who, concerned about the appearance of his morality and legitimacy of his case against Rome in his quest for divorce, refused to risk creating the male heir he so desperately wanted out of wedlock.