Sunday, 16 February 2014

Book review: Sovereign, by C.J. Sansom

Happy Sunday everyone. The weather outside is bright and beautiful - I'm hoping it stays like this as I have a riding lesson at 3! 

Without further ado, here's installment number trois...


The story opens in 1541, with Shardlake and Barak, who is now in Shardlake's employment, arriving at York. They are there to process petitions to the King, who is on a Progress to the North to receive submissions by the York rebels. However, there is also a special mission assigned to Shardlake by Archbishop Cranmer - ensure the welfare of a conspirator, Sir Edward Broderick, who is to be brought to London and questioned about his involvement.

The murder of a York glazier, and the discovery of secret papers in his home, involves them in a mystery connected to Broderick and Henry VIII himself. 

Sansom recreates the excitement and activity surrounding the preparations for the King's arrival, from putting up the royal tents to practicing the correct way to greet him. When the group, Shardlake included, travel out to meet the King, the tension and anxiety literally emanated from the book. Henry VIII is infamous for his temper as well as sheer bulk - his belittlement of Shardlake in front of the Royal procession, because of his hunched form, displays the King as a cruel, ignorant ruler.

The plot is intricate and complicated, neatly sewing together characters who are partly or completely involved in the glazier's murder and the conspiracy. Dissolution and Dark Fire have their share of brutality, however Sovereign demonstrates just how inhumane this period was. Visitors to York are met with body parts nailed to the city's gates, as well as the skeleton of Robert Aske hanging from the castle as a reminder of what happens to rebels. Animals are both food and entertainment; bears are captured and baited as courtly amusement, which Shardlake (thankfully) refuses to watch. As the Royal procession travels to the North, their waste damages the land they travel through, rendering it useless to the owners.

The morality of the tale, for me, rested on Shardlake's mission. As Broderick reminds him, his attentiveness to Broderick's health is only preserving him for worse horrors in the Tower, where he will be professionally questioned - tortured.

I've rated Sovereign as 8/10 because, while the plot was incredibly detailed, it simply wasn't my favourite of the series. The sheer depth of the story, a credit to Sansom, meant that the story became quite drawn out, although all the threads are tied neatly together at the end.


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