Historical fiction is a neglected love of mine. I adore it yet I barely ever read it. This is one occassion where I tried to correct this. Sovereign is the third book in C.J.Sansom’s Matthew Shardlake series set in Henry VIII’s time. I have not read any other books in this series but continued regardless, and to be perfectly honest, it didn’t effect my reading experience much at all.
Sovereign follows the lawyer Shardlake and his assistant Barak on their journey to York, where Shardlake has been hired to process petitions to the King during the famous procession of 1541. The King is trying to quell the rebellious thoughts in the North of England, in an infamous procession throughout the East of England. He is with his fifth wife, Catherine Howard, who has still yet to fall pregnant thereby failing to produce a male heir for dear King Henry. Shardlake has been charged with an extra task by the Archbishop Cranmer to ensure the health and safety of an important prisoner in York and then to accompany him to the Tower of London where true torture awaits. Things seem to be going in a mediocre way until a glacier gets killed. Shardlake finds himself the head of the investigation and gets caught up in uncovering a rebellious plot to upend the King. With the discovery of secret documents, multiple assassination attempts and some truly power-hungry authoritarians, is he ever going to get to the bottom of it? Or even come out of the trip alive?
This is a slow burner… It took me a while to get into it and I think that it was down to the amount of time it took for the initial murder to take place that kicks everything off. There was a lot of setting the scene which I appreciated due to the fact that I hadn’t read any other novels in the series but also felt impatient with as there was nothing to really get “into”. Once things do start kicking off and the pace picks up, this truly gets interesting. I was fascinated to read more about the time period and found it really interesting. The main characters dealt with things quite well and Shardlake is intelligent without being a genius which is refreshing. He talks a lot of sense which got me behind him.
The characters were all quite interesting although I didn’t take to any of them despite the size of the book (around 600 pages). I thought that I would become attached to some of them as you normally would but nope. I’m not sure I like the relationships either. I think this is where I should have read the other books, to see the progression of their relationships and characters. Hopefully this would have solved this issue for other readers.
It was very well done in it’s historical detail and it’s storyline. I enjoyed the storyline and the secret documents. It also made me want to read more about that time period and especially about the procession that Henry VIII was on, the unrest and of course the religious side of it all. I think that it what a historical fiction book should do. It’s to tell you in a loose way what happened and can really spur you on to study it more. Which as a history buff I tend to do!
Now I tell you something… the ending was a shocker. It wasn’t the revelation that was the shocker but what happens after that!! My goodness! I did not see that coming. I didn’t like it. But I love that I didn’t like it! If that makes any sense? It was controversial and would split readers. I was so shocked that it happened that I really appreciate that it wasn’t just a typical- here’s the culprit, arrested, rots in jail kind of ending. I’m really intrigued to see if this is a common theme in all the books or whether this is character development?
I would definitely read another book in the series. Due to the historical factor and period but also due the ending and the characters, despite not taking to them I am intrigued to know more about them and any possible explanations of why I feel that way.
The tricky question now is to go backwards or forwards in the series? I did not think this through…
The Sovereign by C. J. Sansom