Friday, July 09, 2010

Book Review: Sovereign

This, the third in the Shardlake series by CJ Sansom, took quite a while to read, partly because it is a bit longer than the previous books, and partly because it wasn't until I was on holiday that I got some extended reading time to finish it off.

Sovereign again escapes Tudor London for the most part, with Shardlake and his sidekick Barack finding themselves on several missions in York, just as the Royal Progress is coming towards the great city. As you would expect in a historical murder mystery, a murder occurs and Shardlake is plunged into the intrigue as he seeks to catch the murderer while escaping being murdered himself.

Expect (as in the previous ones) lots of twists and turns, and even when some things are revealed, the mystery and surprise is far from over. Several times in this book, unlike the previous ones, I almost felt that it was dragging slightly, being just too long, but just when I had that feeling, bang, another shock event turned up and my interest rose again.

With Thomas Cromwell executed, Shardlake now finds himself working for Archbishop Cranmer, which gives Sansom the opportunity to portray the godly reforming bishop in tender tones, perhaps slightly out of his depth among the political machinations. As well, there is an extended description and analysis of the reign of Henry VIII and the expensive royal court on the move as he came to subjugate his rebellious northern subjects in York.

Linked to this, and perhaps one of the reasons I first got into the whole series, was the recommendation from Christopher Wright on the description of the parousia, the royal visit, which the apostle Paul uses to anticipate King Jesus' return to this world. The preparations of the leading citizens of York, their submission, the appearance and reverence of the king, all was usefully portrayed, even if poor Shardlake comes off the worst from it.

I'm not sure what more I can really say that I haven't already said about the two previous episodes, Dissolution and Dark Fire. Excellent historical re-creations, great descriptions of events, characters and general ambiance of life in medieval England, and the finest murder mystery elements (and unusual and inventive methods of murder!). Here, there are even more surprises, and one massive one towards the end with the leading character finding himself in somewhere you wouldn't expect to place your lead character!

Sovereign could probably be enjoyed on its own, but even more so if you read them in order. Start today!

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