Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Book Review: Dissolution and Dark Fire

I've been happily engaged in reading a wonderful series of mysteries by C.J. Sansom set in Tudor England--at the same time period as my previous book review, Wolf Hall.

These novels feature Matthew Shardlake, a hunchback lawyer, who is unwillingly pulled into the dangerous political struggles at the midpoint of the reign of Henry VIII.

The books need to be read in order because they are written chronologically and the character of Shardlake develops and changes. For example, Shardlake is an avid reformer and supporter of Lord Cromwell (the central figure in Wolf Hall) in the first book Dissolution. Dissolution takes place during the period when the King and Cromwell were taking over the English monastaries. Shardlake becomes disillusioned with the reformers as he sees their greed and hypocrisy, although he does maintains his protestant viewpoint.

Dark Fire , the second mystery, takes place during the fall and execution of Lord Cromwell and highlights the increasing tyranny and paranoia of Henry VIII. I'm now in the middle of the third book in the series, Sovereign, in which Shardlake is compelled to join a Royal Progress to the city of York by Archbishop Cranmer, where he unwittingly witnesses evidence of Queen Catherine Howard's infidelity. Thankfully, I can look forward to reading Revelation when I finish! Revelation is set during the last days of Henry VIII during his courtship of Catherine Parr, the last of his 6 wives.

Matthew Shardlake is a fully drawn character--intelligent, sympathetic, and well-rounded. The supporting characters in the 3 books I have read are also well developed. There are no stock characters in these mysteries. A number of them, like Lady Rochford, are real historical figures and Sansom's characterization of them is accurate. Sansom's portrayals of at everyday life in the Tudor period are outstanding. You'll shudder at the descriptions of the sanitary havoc wreaked upon York by the multitudes of men, women and horses that accompany a royal progress!

I just love these books! Those of you who were also disappointed with Wolf Hall will enjoy them. And yes, you can read them on Kindle (I did!). Sansom is working on a fifth one, Heartstone, that will be published next year. Yippee!
Reminder: Check the comments on the post below and add your lyrics to the 2009 Christmas Song! I'll post an updated version on Wednesday.


Viola Larson said...

thank you Quotidian, I haven't read a good mystery in awhile and that has always been one of my favorite times and places in history.

Quotidian Grace said...

Any Tudorphile will love these books. And they are excellent mysteries as well.

Anonymous said...

QG - thanks for the recommendations - you have not steered me wrong on books! This is my fave historical time period!