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191 of 196 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars God's nails - a third success!
In what looks like being the final book of a trilogy, C J Sansom brings out long-suffering lawyer Matthew Shardlake for another mystery thriller set against the impeccably researched background of a vivid, tumultuous and colourful Tudor England.

Sansom has set this trio of books in the reign of Henry VIII, and in this book the lawyer gets closer than he would...
Published on 22 Mar 2007 by I. Curry

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35 of 39 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A proper curates egg
I loved the first two Shardlake books, and so rushed to buy this one as soon as it came out. If I said I didn't enjoy it I would be lying, but compared to the first two it was something of a let down. While the recreation of early Tudor England is once again fantastic, and the characters well drawn and sympathetic, there was something in the plotting that just felt...
Published on 25 Sep 2006 by Nick B


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191 of 196 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars God's nails - a third success!, 22 Mar 2007
By 
I. Curry "IDC" (London, UK) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Sovereign: 3 (The Shardlake Series) (Paperback)
In what looks like being the final book of a trilogy, C J Sansom brings out long-suffering lawyer Matthew Shardlake for another mystery thriller set against the impeccably researched background of a vivid, tumultuous and colourful Tudor England.

Sansom has set this trio of books in the reign of Henry VIII, and in this book the lawyer gets closer than he would otherwise care to the dangerous monarch. His old promoter and task-master, Cromwell, has already fallen out of the King's favour, being despatched before being lamented. Shardlake is therefore surprised to find him being sought out to perform more missions in the royal service.

In this book he is working for Archbishop Cranmer, the reforming Archbishop of Canterbury and pivotal figure in the religious, social and political history of the turbulent reformation times. His mission is to head to York and meet up with the King's Progress. This mighty procession of monarchical majesty is designed to impress and cow the rebellious northerners, who have only just been settled after the Pilgrimage of Grace uprising.

Shardlake, always seeking an easy life, is assured his job will simply be to help a fellow lawyer with the pleas before the King. Naturally not all goes to plan, and the unwilling lawyer is thrust into a dangerous and gripping thriller which threatens to undermine the very essence of the Tudor dynasty, the very essence of Sovereignty.

I am not usually a big fan of historical fiction. It is often used as a vehicle by poor writers to give their bland prose a splash of factual colour, a "bodice ripping thriller", as Blackadder might say. But C J Sansom is very different. A historian by nature, he feels and knows the period well enough to be able to weave a rich tapestry, evoking the very essence of the times by his settings, plots, characterisations and even the conversational vocabulary.

The third book is in some ways the best of the three. It is longer, and allows a deeper development of the plot and the relationship Shardlake has with his assistant Barak and the other minor characters. The city of York is richly portrayed, and makes a change from the setting of London and the south, and he is especially sharp at the depiction of a town still smarting after the failed rebellion. If there is much of a criticism it is that it is very much more of the same. But if that has been a winning formula, that can't be much of a failing.
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131 of 135 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Exhilarating Progress Through Tudor Times, 27 Mar 2007
By 
Eugene Onegin (Lincoln England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Sovereign: 3 (The Shardlake Series) (Paperback)
If you are already familiar with the Shardlake series you will need no second invitation to acquire this volume, as it is every bit as good as the previous two. However, if you are new to the adventures of Sansom's humane Tudor lawyer then be assured you are in for a treat. Historical whodunits are ten a penny these days, but ones of this quality are much rarer. Sansom's great skill is to evoke the England of Henry VIII so convincingly that you not only see the scenes of that ancient time but also feel them. The smells, spectacles, landscapes, characters and language of the time come truly alive and hence are an integral part of the novel's appeal. Onto this rich canvas, a complex tale of intrigue, betrayal, political rivalry, and murder is expertly woven focussing on real historical events-in this case The Royal Progress of 1541 and attendant conspiracy alongside the troubled reign of Queen Katherine Howard. Every aspect of the plot is related to the issues of the day (the author holds a PhD in History) and the set piece encounters of his fictional characters with the the era's most powerful figures are full of tension and import, consequently one learns much even as the story grips you. Yet this erudition never stifles the plot which is full of incident and moves at a cracking pace: there is none of Umberto Eco's intellectual showboating or Ellis Peters' genteel scene setting here: this is the sixteenth century in all its vibrancy, stink, and duplicity. It is also worth observing that Sansom writes well, his prose is pleasing and flows effortlessly so that a 600 plus page tome seems shorter than many half its length. In short this is a fine piece of writing which just also happens to be a thriller and one that affords the reader that very special pleasure when returning home at the end of a hard day you rub your hands and think `I can continue with Sovereign tonight'. All avid readers will understand what I mean.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great characterization and a fast-paced story line which provides for a compelling read., 23 Dec 2006
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The third in the Matthew Shardlake series takes us to York , in the midst of Henry VIII's brutal supression of Northern England known as the Progress.

Matthew Sharlake comes face to face with Henry's reign of terror (and the machinations of his henchman such as the conniving Sir Richard Rich) the book revealing Henry as a cruel tyrant , while discovering embaraasing facts that put his life in danger , and keep us speculating in an excellent cross between historical and detective novel.

The sights , sounds and smells of Tudor England are brought to life as are the violent conflict in the England at the time between 'traditionalists' and 'reformers' in the church , the repercusions of which would continue for centuries to come , to rock England and cause wars and turmoil.

In this novel we read of the tragic fate of Catherine Howard , Henry's fifth young wife.

Also interesting is the story of Jack Barak , and his secret Jewish ancestry.

Barak , a brawling street boy who , became a clerk to Thomas Cromwell , is constantly by Shardlake's side , and in this novel, finds the love of the pretty amnd pert Tamasin Reedbourne , and attendant to noblewoman Mistress Jennet Marlin , who herself is a central character in the intrigue.

Great characterization and a fast-paced story line which provides for a compelling read.
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36 of 37 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Rich blend of historical detail and well-paced thriller, 7 Jun 2007
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This review is from: Sovereign: 3 (The Shardlake Series) (Paperback)
This is a great read for anyone interested in Tudor history combined with a good fictional thriller.

Sansom creates a great sense of place and time with attention to detail. This lends the book an authenticity that is is often missing in other historical fiction.

The dialogue and the characterisations are generally believable but I have some misgivings about Shardlake himself. There are times when I feel he is bearing modern day sensibilities (such as his distate of blood sports and the violence of the era) simply to act as a bridge between the modern reader and the plot. For me the dialogue is least effective and anachronistic when Shardlake adopts these 21st century values.

The book is well-paced with a good balance between descriptive prose and dialgoue to move the story forward.

If you fancy a holiday read that is several steps up from a Dan Brown then this could be the book for you.
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35 of 36 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars FANTASTIC, 26 Aug 2006
By 
Spuddler (South Coast, England) - See all my reviews
I have read all of the Shardlake books and this is the best to date. The story is gripping - set aside a weekend when you won't be interrupted to read this because you won't be able to put it down. I love the sense of place and atmosphere - I feel as if I am there in York with Shardlake and Barak. Shardlake has to present petitions to Henry and to safeguard the welfare of a prisoner and then finds himself (with Barak)involved in investigating the death of a glazier. The language creates a strong sense of the smells, the people, the mutual suspicions between the southern visitors and the hosts, the casual barbarity of everyday life and the sense of a world turned upside down.

I have enjoyed all Sansom's Tudor mysteries but he has reached a pinnacle with this one. There are several stories happening at once and many layers of intrigue and deception, all of which keep you guessing. Characterisation is strong and vivid and an old world is brought to life in technicolour. I wished it would go on forever. I can't wait for the next one.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Immersive and thrilling novel of Tudor England, 5 Jun 2007
This review is from: Sovereign: 3 (The Shardlake Series) (Paperback)
"Sovereign" opens in the autumn of 1541, just as King Henry VIII is approaching York on his Great Progress, a show of power and majesty designed to overawe the restless northerners who rose against him five years previously. Matthew Shardlake, the hunchbacked lawyer, has also been sent to York by Archbishop Cranmer, primarily to assist the lawyers in presenting pleas to the king, but also on a special mission: to oversee the return to London of a dangerous prisoner, a one-time conspirator named Broderick. While Shardlake is in York, however, the death of a glazier leads to the uncovering of a fresh conspiracy against King Henry. As he delves deeper into the mystery, however, he begins to put his own life in danger.

I came to "Sovereign" without having read either of the previous two in the Shardlake series, but thankfully I did not feel that this was required in order to follow the plot. The book has the feel of a political thriller, with a cast of characters jostling for position in the kingdom and Shardlake caught in the middle. The pace is kept up and at no stage did my attention wander from the page. In the last 150 pages, as the story approached its climax, I did start to find myself swamped by the number of characters and all their complex interrelationships. Nevertheless, I didn't feel that this detracted too much from what is a fine novel full of intrigue and action, and the resolution - when it arrives - is both surprising and fitting.

C.J. Sansom has a PhD in History and has clearly researched his period well. He brings out Tudor York and its environs in meticulous detail - from the dilapidated old streets and the provincial language of its citizens to the majesty of the King's pavilion and the Minster - such that it is easy to visualise what sixteenth-century England would have been like. His characters too are for the most part believable and fully rounded, and Shardlake himself clearly undergoes a journey in the course of the book, as he starts to become disillusioned with the institutions of his day (Church, King and State). In drawing such a parallel between Tudor times and our own, Sansom is expertly able to evoke 1541 in a way which speaks to the modern reader.

Everything considered, "Sovereign" is an excellent read which flows well and keeps the action coming. I definitely look forward to the forthcoming "Revelation", the next and fourth volume in the Shardlake series.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A little too detailed, 20 Oct 2007
By 
Wyvernfriend (Dublin, Ireland) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Sovereign: 3 (The Shardlake Series) (Paperback)
It's an interesting installment in the further adventures of Matthew Shardlake, hunchback and lawyer. This happens in 1541, during King Henry VIII's progress through the North of England to overawe and subjugate his rebellious subjects. There is much for them to rebel over, the poor are crippled by heavy taxes and the rich are benefiting from the dissolution of the monasteries. Catherine Howard is Henry's current wife and things are starting to get a little rocky.

Matthew Shardlake is in York for two purposes. The first is to process some local legal work for the king and the second is on a mission from Archbishop Cranmer to ensure that a certain prisoner survives to questioning and his almost certain execution.

He stumbles on the death of a stained glass artisan and this sets in play a series of events that lead to several attempts at his life. To survive he has to discover what the conspiracy is, but knowledge can also be dangerous.

It's just that bit too detailed. Some of the assumptions and language are a little too modern, but that could be excused for legibility. There are few modern readers who would be able to get through a full novel of Tudor English. I found myself losing track of the events because of the detail but the detail added hugely to the sense of place of the novel. By the end I was happy to have read it but left with some sense that it could have been tighter.
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24 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Very entertaining, very well written, 28 May 2007
By 
J. Holliday "Saminblack" (Bath, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Sovereign: 3 (The Shardlake Series) (Paperback)
Like most English people I guess, the figure of Henry VIII is one that intrigues me enormously.

A big man - in every respect of the word - he dominates the Middle Ages in terms of our understanding/knowledge of him and I have some sympathy with the historians who complain that the only people British schoolkids know about at the end of their history courses are Hitler and Henry.

For many of us, I guess, we see him as a 'lovable rogue', a man with huge passions and appetites and someone to be (guiltily?) admired. Well, you may admire him less after reading this excellent work.

Henry is not the main character in this book - in fact he utters only a handful of words in this 600 page tome - but (as I indicated above) in this book, like in history, he dominates the plot.

The excellently construted character Matthew Shardlake is sent to York where Henry is heading to act as a lawyer but also to carry out a 'minding' job on an anti-Henry prisoner.

During the course of his stay in York, Shardlake stumbles upon a mystery that could change history ('oh no not another Da Vinci you're thinking!!) which puts his life in danger and means he can trust no-one around him.

This is part historical fiction, part detective story, part thriller and part of a Shardlake trilogy (see what I did there?), the other two parts of which I now intend to read with gusto.

CJ Sansom writes with an elegant touch, never patronises the audience and teaches you things about the period in such a way that you don't realise you are being taught. He also leaves you guessing throughout - this is a genuine whodunnit where you end up suspecting everyone.

A book I would thoroughly recommned and which kept me wholly entertained - and (annoyingly!) - made me even MORE interested in the figure of Henry, even though he only gets one or two lines.

And to the person who reviewed this here and said it was comical like Blackadder, all I can say is he is very wrong - off with his head!!!!
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Magnificent, 19 Jan 2007
By 
Didier (Ghent, Belgium) - See all my reviews
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I immensely enjoyed the first two novels featuring Matthew Shardlake, and was a little anxious when I began reading 'Sovereign': would it be as good? Well, rest assured, it is at least as good, if not better.

From the very beginning it's like meeting an old friend again who hasn't changed a bit, though you haven't seen him for quite a while. Shardlake still is that most unlikely of heroes: a crouchbacked (honest) lawyer, but above all a decent human being with sound morals and integrity.

The plot twists and turns as in the best historical thrillers, and Sansom not only perfectly captures the sounds and smells of Tudor England, but succeeds in pervading this novel with a sense of gloom and anxiety that mirrors the ruthlessness of Henry VII's court.

It feels as if this is the final novel about Matthew Shardlake, but I sincerely hope it isn't. Most other historical novels seem quite stale and dreary in comparison. A great read!
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Top class historical fiction, 28 Feb 2008
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This review is from: Sovereign: 3 (The Shardlake Series) (Paperback)
I've quickly become CJ Sansom's biggest fan and this is his best yet. The action in "Sovereign" takes place during the time of Henry VIII's fifth marriage to Katherine Howard, and it's a damned gripping read from cover to cover. Sansom's gift is his uncanny ability to conjour the world he writes about, its sounds, smells and social mores; into this heady brew he places Matthew Shardlake, one of the most humane and likeable detectives in fiction. Shardlake is uncommonly advanced and enlightened in his political and social views, and his reflections on what he witnesses around him are one of the highlights of the series. He is a deeply intelligent and rather modern guide to the splendour and brutality of the Tudor age. The plot itself is dramatic and complex, peopled with plenty of other colourful characters. Highly readable and very atmospheric, Sansom's fiction goes straight to the front rank.
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Sovereign: 3 (The Shardlake Series)
Sovereign: 3 (The Shardlake Series) by C. J. Sansom (Paperback - 16 Mar 2007)
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