Sovereign (Matthew Shardlake #3), by C.J. Sansom

Eight stars

C.J. Sansom continues to develop his great set of historical mysteries, all set during the Tudor era. With Thomas Cromwell executed, Matthew Shardlake is in definite limbo, trying to distance himself from his one-time superior while keeping a legal practice running effectively. The Cromwell void is filled soon thereafter when Archbishop Cranmer turns to Shardlake and asks that he make his way to York, where King Henry VIII will soon travel. Still reeling from the clashes with the Crown, York is a political zone that simmers with uncertainty, requiring that Shardlake and his new assistant, Barak, always watch themselves. Arriving in York, Shardlake senses that things may not be as troubling as Cranmer posited, seeing a community ready to celebrate with their King. However, when the death of a local glazier appears to be foul play, Shardlake and Barak cannot help but look into it, for the sake of the country’s safety. The victim appears to have fallen from a ladder, but there is surely more to it, which is substantiated when Shardlake discovers a box of documents. He and Barak ponder how to get into them and, once opened, the cache reveals something that Shardlake could not have imagined. Documents discussing the Tudor bloodline and some mention of the past King Richard, a close descendant to the current Henry VIII. Before Shardlake can process what he has glimpsed, he is attacked and the documents disappear. With two mysteries to occupy his time, Shardlake begins his own investigation, though tries to keep the peace when the King arrives to celebrate with his subjects. Dodging death on numerous occasions, Shardlake begins to wonder if the murderer has a determination that will not be sated and seeks to reveal a stunning truth about the legitimacy of the Tudor line. With Barak by his side, Shardlake tries to piece it all together without becoming another victim, while York remains a volatile spot for any southerner. A well-developed mystery that holds the reader’s attention until the final pages, allowing Sansom to use history to his advantage. Recommended for those who love a historical mystery, particularly the reader with a passion for all things Tudor.

This is a wonderfully deep and more intricate mystery series that forces me to think while also enjoying the narrative. Steeped in history and developments of the time, C.J. Sansom chooses to educate while entertaining with a nuance-filled narrative. The story helped to open my eyes to some of the Tudor history, particularly that during the War of the Roses, with York at the centre of all. Sansom also hinted at a little more of the backstory related to Matthew Shardlake, a welcome addition to any piece. A gritty and determined legal mind, Shardlake finds himself in the middle of upheaval, with Henry VIII getting rid of the stain of Thomas Cromwell as he advances on his tumultuous search for a male heir by lusting for anything with breasts. Shardlake must hold his tongue and forge onwards as best he can, hoping that he is one step ahead of his critics throughout. Sansom shows a man still humbled by his hunchback when exploring Matthew Shardlake, taking some time to talk about a childhood that was tough, when seen through the lens of other children, less understanding of difference and wanting to carve out their own identity. Still, Shardlake faces adversity in this new land—York—where many challenge his veracity and capability, as though his back is indicative of feeble mindedness. Shardlake develops a strong attention to detail when it comes to the law, as well as being a wonderful investigator. Having moved the story so far away from London, there are countless others whose presence throughout the novel help enrich the narrative, particularly the contrast between northern and southern sentiment about many things. These characters serve various purposes and the banter is highly educational while also keeping the reader from getting too serious about the reading experience. Sansom has a wonderful way of weaving his characters into a glorious tapestry and will not disappoint. The novel is strong and well-paced, opening yet more Tudor and English history, while questioning what many feel they know. Sansom captures these intricacies while offering a stellar mystery to keep the reader enthralled. The novel is by no means out of the realm of any reader, though its depth and analysis can sometimes give it a ‘deeper’ and more ‘intense’ feel. Peeling back the layers of history and the pace required to digest it all, this is a wonderful story for the patient reader. I am eager that I gave the series another chance and want to get to the core of the Sansom reading experience, with Matthew Shardlake at its centre.

Kudos, Mr. Sansom, for keeping the story strong and highly entertaining. I cannot wait to see what you have in store next, so I’ll rush to get my hands on another novel.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: