Book Review: Dark Fire by C.J. Sansom

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australis
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Book Review: Dark Fire by C.J. Sansom

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Dark Fire is the second in the Matthew Shardlake series of historical mysteries, set in the time of Henry VIII.

This is very much a London tale. The city comes to life, its ripe smells, the crowding noise, the stinking streets, the crowding, and above all, the poverty.

It is three years after the events of the dissolution of the Scarnsea monastery. Shardlake suddenly finds himself in favour again with Earl Thomas Cromwell, who has a hard and urgent task for him. He has bought Sharlake twelve days’ stay of execution for a young girl accused of heinous murder, who does nothing in her defence, and Shardlake has to delve deep into the girl’s family to figure what has gone wrong.

But at the same time, he has to find for Cromwell the possessors of a great secret, that he can take to the king and strengthen his position against his enemies. Cromwell’s choice of wife for Henry, Anne of Cleves, is very much on the way out, and the capricious king has withdrawn his favour of his Chielf Minister, and wolves are circling. So Cromwell is seeking something a knight brought back from the Crusades – the secret of Greek Fire.

Shardlake is in the grip of a moral dilemma: he can see what the results of a weapon like Greek fire would be if Henry and his cohorts get their hands on it – Catholic Europe burning from one end to the other, England’s heel on half a dozen countries, and Henry’s ‘new men’ pillaging for all they’re worth.

Cromwell assigns one of his men to become Shardlake’s assistant in the venture, a streetwise young tough of dangerous abilities called Jack Barak. The two don’t hit it off, annoyed by one another’s habits and methods, but they soon grow to respect and rely on the other’s abilities, because hard on their heels are dangerous men who think nothing of murder and torture.

The mysteries twists one way, then another, as Shardlake and Barak try to discover where the secret is, and who is behind the killers sent after them. And it goes right up into the greatest in the land…

And at the same time, Shardlake and Barak plunge into the darkness at the heart of the girl’s family as they race against time and illness to save her…

As you may have gathered, I enjoyed this book a lot. It has a compelling story for anyone interesdted in history, and as in all good mystery thrillers, races fater and faster towards the end, as the story’s strands begin to reveal how they are woven together. A definite 4.5/5

Dark Fire won the 2005 Ellis Peters Historical Dagger, awarded by the Crime Writers' Association
"... times change, and so must I… we all change. When you think about it, we are all different people, all through our lives and that’s okay, that’s good! You've gotta keep moving, so long as you remember all the people that you used to be."
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Re: Book Review: Dark Fire by C.J. Sansom

Post by RJDiogenes »

Ah, I almost missed this. So it only took him till the second book to get to the end of Cromwell's tenure. I wonder if he has specific plans for the life of Shardlake, and a definite resolution to the series in mind. If the series is moving in real time, Shardlake must be getting older; most character series remain rather ambiguous and things like time and age. I wish I could do that....
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Re: Book Review: Dark Fire by C.J. Sansom

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Keep in mind there's only 3 years between Dissolution and Dark Fire. Only a year between DF and the next one, Sovereign. Just finished it. Will review it soon. Final lines will include :... and Shardlake finds himself fighting for the stability of the kingdom and his own life".

When you look at what's happening in the kingdom at this time - Catherine Howard, religious zealots, Catherine Parr, death of Henry and ascendancy of Mary ! meaning reversal of religious reform, it could be quite good. Hopefully he'll live long enough to see Elizabeth on the throne.
"... times change, and so must I… we all change. When you think about it, we are all different people, all through our lives and that’s okay, that’s good! You've gotta keep moving, so long as you remember all the people that you used to be."
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Re: Book Review: Dark Fire by C.J. Sansom

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Sounds like that's probably the author's plan, given the longer time span between the first two books and the shorter span between the second and third; he probably wants to showcase that whole transitional era.
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