Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Book review: Heartstone, by C.J. Sansom

Happy Tuesday. I hope everyone is well – I’m feeling under the weather after a busy weekend and eating absolutely rubbish on Sunday. I even had to rearrange yesterday’s gym appointment to Saturday.
In the fifth, and hopefully not final, book of the Shardlake series, our ingenious protagonist travels to the Portsmouth area. I finished this book in December 2013, but then visited Portsmouth with my Korean students in January; we went on a tour of the large warships, as well as visiting the fantastic Mary Rose exhibition.
Spoiler Alert:
The sinking of the Mary Rose was heart breaking to read about, reflecting the waste of human life in war. Seeing it in 2014, after it had been pulled from the bottom of the channel, was truly breathtaking, especially after reading Heartstone. Hundreds of men died on that ship.
Objects which are mundane in 21st century life, such as spoons, bowls and chests, become much more precious when they are centuries old, and when the owners died in such a tragic way. I imagine whose it was and what they would think now, seeing it displayed in its own exhibition.

In the tumultuous summer of 1545, England is preparing for war. Men are marching from across the country to Portsmouth, where the French are expected to invade. Fear is widespread. The new coinage Henry VIII has created to fund his war has destabilised the economy, causing anger and unrest.  
Meanwhile, Shardlake is embroiled in a case which will lead him straight to the heart of the battle. He must investigate ‘charges of monstrous wrongdoing’ against the Hobbey family's ward, Hugh Curteys. Against the better judgement of his friends, Shardlake also decides to search for the truth behind Ellen Fettiplace's imprisonment in the Bedlam (we met her in Revelation). When he finds no documentary evidence as to why she is unable to leave, his interrogatory mind is set.
The Hobbey house is eerie and unsettling, with an impending sense of disaster which builds up throughout Shardlake and Barak’s stay. Hugh’s ambivalence and David’s coldness towards his mother are indicators that something is amiss, but it really is impossible to pinpoint what. The backdrop of the impending war infiltrates the household, with the boys regularly practising archery and Shardlake meeting marching soldiers and carts full of ammunition on his secret trips to and from Sussex. 
Abigail, central to the activities in the household, is tormented, creating a palpable sense of nervousness whenever she is around. One particularly callous act towards her, by both Hugh and David, is frightening in its cruelty, as well as the fact that Hugh, the supposedly wronged ward, is a perpetrator.
Shardlake meets a variety of people in Heartstone, providing more minor characters than before; the significance of this is not apparent until much later, but it adds a sense of poignancy at the climax of the story. Sergeant Leacon, whom Shardlake helps in Sovereign, becomes more prominent; an affable character in Sovereign, he is transformed by the siege of Boulogne and the widespread slaughter in France. His shock and personality change echoes that of men returning from the trenches 400 years later.
Heartstone is an explosive end to the series, with the exposure of long-kept secrets and the punishment of old enemies. In a glimmer of hope, Tamasin gives birth to a healthy baby boy, named after the lost men on the Mary Rose.

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