264 of 281 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars More of the same in this excellent series
Heartstone continues the story of Matthew Shardlake and co, and weaves together at least 3 different strands of plot to reach a satisfying conclusion. There are no major departures from type to be fair but I like the fact that CJ Sansom has chosen once again to move the story out of London and in so doing can further describe the countryside, the town of Portsmouth, and...
Published on 2 Sep 2010 by Big Jim
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Long awaited and a bit disappointing
Having read all the previous Shardlake adventures and thinking them brilliant I found Heartstone very disappointing. For me the story started well, but them dragged on and on to a disappointing and unbelievable end. I agree with other reviewers who have given this book 3 stars in that it was difficult to feel any emotion whatsoever for most of the characters brought in,...
Published on 15 Jan 2011 by I. Vanburgh
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264 of 281 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars More of the same in this excellent series,
This review is from: Heartstone (The Shardlake Series) (Hardcover)Heartstone continues the story of Matthew Shardlake and co, and weaves together at least 3 different strands of plot to reach a satisfying conclusion. There are no major departures from type to be fair but I like the fact that CJ Sansom has chosen once again to move the story out of London and in so doing can further describe the countryside, the town of Portsmouth, and the early days of the navy. There are some engaging characters to be met as well, some more integral to the plot than others, and to be fair some of them are a tad stereotypical, but maybe that's because the stereotypes are true. One thing that does grate though is the use of modern idiom such as "mad as a box of frogs". I know we don't want the dialogue to be all "yea verily" and the like but the use of such idiom does seem a bit incongruous. Of course someone will now tell me that the phrase was first coined in Tudor times in which case I withdraw my complaint.
But seriously, this will please fans of the series, and although new readers could start with this book they would be advised to start at book 1 to see how the relationships develop through the series as that does have some significance in this book.
114 of 123 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Outstanding Shardlake,
This review is from: Heartstone (The Shardlake Series) (Hardcover)Well after the last book `Revelation', I thought we had seen the end of Shardlake and Barak and therefore sadly resigned myself to the fact that there may only ever be four books in this fantastic series. I am sure I do not need to tell you how excited I was to see `Heartstone' advertised earlier on in the year! I could not wait to get my hands on a copy of this book and ensured I was able to buy a copy on its publication date.
The book itself is aesthetically beautiful. The dust jacket, colour maps on front and back covers and the red ribbon have helped to create a book which demands centre stage on your bookshelf. The book is slightly heavy, which can be problematic when reading the book in bed at the end of the day when your aching limbs are succumbing to the effects of gravity! Yet that is the only negative point for a book which definitely stands out from the rest.
Aesthetics aside, the content is typical Shardlake with the story plodding along quite nicely until the final third when revelation after revelation is thrown at our indomitable lawyer in true, plot twisting style! This time Shardlake is away from London and thus the story focuses mainly on his adventures in Hampshire. We have a new setting with a different story, but one which contains just enough familiar elements from the previous book to sustain the flow from `Revelation' into `Heartstone'.
In Heartstone, you will see a slightly different Shardlake and in some ways he appears to be more vulnerable to his enemies. I experienced a greater range of emotions when reading this book than I have done with the previous instalments, which ranged from anger to sorrow, empathy to disgust. All in all, key ingredients for a dangerously addictive read. I would certainly advise that you have a clear week or two before beginning this book as you will not be able to set it down once you have begun.
I sincerely hope that this is not the end of Shardlake and if I have to wait another year or two for a new book - I'm quite happy to do so! Some people may say that with any lengthy series, the commercial/financial aspects overshadow the quality of the books and the series' `sell-by date' is prolonged to exploit the success. That is definitely not the case with this book; it feels fresher than ever and leaves you wanting more.
Highly recommended reading.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Long awaited and a bit disappointing,
This review is from: Heartstone (The Shardlake Series) (Hardcover)Having read all the previous Shardlake adventures and thinking them brilliant I found Heartstone very disappointing. For me the story started well, but them dragged on and on to a disappointing and unbelievable end. I agree with other reviewers who have given this book 3 stars in that it was difficult to feel any emotion whatsoever for most of the characters brought in, and I couldn't care less what happened to them. I felt that this book was rather a struggle, far too long for what was in effect a desperate storyline so that the author could account for all the wives of Henry Viii. I was relieved when I finished it to be honest and now, I really will not be waiting with baited breath to see if there is another book in the Shardlake series. I presume there will be, hopefully one final adventure which sees Shardlake retire in the end, as I doubt much more of interest could be gained from the character. A shame really.
115 of 128 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Shardlake, that awkward protector of the vulnerable in the brutal world of the Tudors, returns in triumph,
This review is from: Heartstone (The Shardlake Series) (Hardcover)I admit it. I'm a total sucker for historical fiction - and absolutely adore all the books of C J Sansom. I've reviewed a few from the Matthew Shardlake series before (e.g. Revelation, Dark Fire and Dissolution) so i eagerly opened my copy of the 5th in the series: Heartstone. I only hope that there are more...
What makes them such page-turners? Well for a start, they have the pace of a good detective mystery. Shardlake is a superb creation. Amateur sleuth and stubborn, hunchbacked London barrister, he takes on the sorts of injustices from which the 'great and good' walk by on the other side... or even perpetrate. He's a valiant-for-truth and a protector of the weak, in large part because he is one of society's marginalised himself despite his mind. We're frequently reminded that 'hunchbacks bring bad luck'. Is there a subtle allusion to the Tudor propaganda against Richard III here as the hunchback, I wonder? (To see what I'm getting at, check out Josephine Tey's masterly The Daughter Of Time.) Sansom's sublime skill, however, (as I've noted before) is his ability to weave genuine plot-twists and cliff-hangers into the meandering events of genuine Tudor history. For not only is Sansom a trained lawyer, he is also a PhD historian. When combined with story-telling abilities, this is a potent combination.
In Heartstone, we're in the last few years on Henry VIII's reign, following on a few years after previous books (which, incidentally, all get nods by Shardlake on p296). He's engaged in his 3rd campaign against France (as disastrous and pointless as the previous ones), but is now married to Catherine Parr, an old friend of Shardlake. The queen engages the lawyer on what (inevitably) proves to be a rather dangerous case. I will not plot-spoil at all - it's too good a read to do that! But despite coming in at just over 600 pages, I'll simply say that this is a rich and gripping book. More than that, there were aspects of Tudor life about which I previously knew nothing, and yet get meticulously researched and vividly brought to life:
- the sweat and heat of the old iron foundries in Hampshire and Sussex
- the recruitment and training of the famed English military archers - and the impact on a whole society of a country threatened with French invasion
- the protocols, snobberies and excitements of a Tudor stag hunt
- the brutal life on board the warships like the great Mary Rose
The biggest eye-opener, however, was the ancient Court of Wards, created by Henry to raise revenue by overseeing the sale of orphans' wardships. It was appallingly abused and notoriously corrupt - as Sansom notes in his afterword, its abolition was one of the great achievements of Cromwell's Parliament. While Shardlake normally works in the Court of Requests (which a forum to protect land rights for the vulnerable), he gets dragged into this murky world at the Queen's behest. And these 3 big themes come through the book - all of which seemed very contemporary.
1. The power of leaders to drag their country to war
a frequent refrain is the cost of the king's wars with France - both in terms of taxes but more importantly, in terms of lives. It is chilling to see, especially when the campaigns seem so futile and whimsical - an elderly cleric near the end of the book reflects on just war theory and concludes this French campaign certainly wasn't that. Does this all sound familiar? Not quite the same, I realise, but Iraq anyone? My hunch is that the various post-invasion enquiries were going on in London while Sansom was writing this.
2. The destructive grip of ambition
as the narrative develops, it becomes clear that ascending the power ladder in Tudor England takes ruthless dedication and single-mindedness. Several characters are determined to rise at all costs. And several of the crimes encountered by Shardlake illustrate the point perfectly, with the victims of others' ambitions are left reeling or dying. But they are not the only victims. The ambitious men themselves suffer awful consequences. As one character says 'Ambition, sir, I believe it a curse.' (p281) Two characters are told that they 'deserved it', after all that they'd done. Therein lies a wordplay that forms the book's title. A heartstone was in one sense a goodluck charm. It was a bone from a stag killed at a hunt - and was presented to the first person to bring it down (presumably itself a wordplay on heart's bone or hart's bone (the old name for a deer)). As well as bringing the owner (who'd wear it on a necklace), it was meant to have healing properties. But 2 or 3 different people are described in the book as having hearts like stone. And as Shardlake bitterly observes to a great adversary near the end of the book, the king takes advantage of henchmen around him, because they are 'men without even hearts to turn to stone' (p547). And the power of ambition is something that never goes out of date, does it?
3. The extreme vulnerability of children, especially daughters
this is probably the key thread of the book, however - as one might expect when the subject is the Court of Wards. There are 3 parallel stories of children that Shardlake struggles to protect. And this is what makes this, the 5th in the series, one of the most poignant. We see children consigned to Bedlam, stolen as military booty and mascots from invaded lands, sold when orphaned to so-called protectors. It is truly horrendous - but one has little doubt about the credibility of such plot-lines. No doubt things were far worse. And in order to survive, such children find themselves having to act parts (as several in the book have to) - they are trapped and institutionalised, to the extent that even when they can physically walk way, they are chained psychologically. I couldn't help but be reminded of the horrors of those abused as children by parish priests - which again bring such issues horribly up to date.
History should teach us - but rarely does. However, it's amazing to find so much depth, provocation and research in a novel, and a whodunnit to boot. One undercurrent I've not touched on (but it's something that this book has in common with its predecessors) is Shardlake's struggle to sustain a theistic worldview. He is full of anguished doubt as he battles injustice after bloody injustice - as well as seeing firsthand the horrors caused by wielders of power. Belief in God or providence or fate has been dissipated. One or two characters half-heartedly try to resurrect his faith - including Queen Catherine Parr herself. And it is left to a decrepit parish priest (who harks back to the old pre-reformed ways) to attempt, amidst his beer cups, to attempt a defence. He even manages to point to precisely where I'd point when seeking to grapple with the goodness of God in a suffering world - the cross of Christ. As Seckford says, because of the Cross 'I think Christ suffers with us.' (p601) But Shardlake dismisses this with a simple 'What is the good of that, Reverend Seckford?'
If only he saw. But I certainly don't begrudge him his questions - for none of this is easy nor lightly dismissed. This is a brutal world - and the Tudor world far more brutal than ours, perhaps. One is only glad that there are people around like Shardlake - and hope that there were those of conscience and integrity even in those dark Tudor times to stand for truth, justice and the downtrodden - as in fact Jesus himself did. It'll be fascinating to see how Shardlake manages if he reappears in young Edward VI's reign and even Mary I's - for religion will be even more a burning issue. I fear that the events of those years will in many ways make faith even harder him. But I, for one, can't wait to find out.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars A cynical potboiler,
This review is from: Heartstone (Paperback)Having enjoyed the previous books in the Shardlake series I was very disappointed with Heartstone.
The plot was much too weak to engage the reader for over 600 pages. There was far too much repetitive padding and it is difficult to understand the failure to provide the necessary editing.
57 of 64 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Warfare and murder in Tudor times,
This review is from: Heartstone (The Shardlake Series) (Hardcover)In this fifth of the Shardlake series, time has moved forward a few years. Catherine Parr is Queen and Henry VIII is involved in a disastrous naval campaign against the French. There is a mixture of old friends, new characters and historical figures. The plot interweaves three strands, all concerning the exploitation of young women who find themselved abused and powerless in Tudor society. Matthew Shardlake shows himself sensitive to their position, in a quite modern way, and he succeeds in improving all their lots without truly liberating any of them. I was a little disappointed that in one case, Emma, this involves a deus ex machina which at least I could not get from the text(no plot spoilers but think shaving).
As we have now learnt to expect, the whole book is soaked in the most wonderful historical colour and detail. Fabulous descriptions of the fleet based in Portsmouth and the Mary Rose. Affecting details of the life and conditions of the everyday soldier. Considerable details of the workings of the legal system and the Court of Wards. My only reservation, reflected in my rating, is that the setting was not a crucial part of the plot and that CJ Sansom has stepped over some boundary into writing an historical work alongside a thriller, resulting in a book over 600 pages long.
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars :( What Happened???,
This review is from: Heartstone (The Shardlake Series) (Hardcover)Having found in the summer of last year that C J Samson was releasing a new Shardlake book, I was literally jumping for joy. I eagerly went and bought the book, and could not wait to get home to start on another gripping, page turning adventure like all the previous books (Revelation probably being my favourite). I have to say having come to the end of the book which seems to have taken a lifetime for me to finish, I am sorely disappointed. This book has taken me months to read, partly in all honesty, because on a night I couldn't be bothered to read it before bed, and baring in mind that all the previous books have taken me literally a week to read, for me speaks volumes.
The book starts in the normal Shardlake way, with well known and loved characters, Guy, Barak etc, but the whole journey to Portsmouth and the whole time Shardlake was in Portsmouth bored me to tears. I understand that Samson has a great love for the history and excels in describing the surroundings but it seemed to me he was spending most of the book "describing" rather than giving me a nail biting plot. The description of the Mary Rose, The Great Harry etc is commendable as is the description of the soldiers and the whole scene at Portsmouth but there was more of this going on than there was plot. I wanted to scream at Shardlake "for godsake man, get back to bloody London!" The first glimmer of hope I got was the murder at Hoyland Priory a mere 384 pages into the novel but this was short lived and I found myself once again getting bored.
In conclusion if you are a Shardlake fan, you will want to read this book as I did, as I don't want the time to come when I have to say goodbye to Shardlake and Barak, but I would warn you that if you are more interested in the thriller side of the books and not historical war, you will not enjoy this read as you will have done with the previous novels. I just hope that the rumours from last year are true and a Shardlake series appears on the BBC, as I worry that the novels have come to the end of the road. C J Samson I salute you, you have had me captivated for years, I just wish Heartstone had the heart of your other novels.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Another Great Shardlake adventure,
This review is from: Heartstone (The Shardlake Series) (Hardcover)I have without doubt enjoyed all the books in the series and this 5th Shardlake novel was certainly not a disappointment.I would thoroughly recommend it to anyone interested in the Tudor period, who also likes a good mystery. The book is atmospheric and enables you to imagine how grim and fearful life was for many living in London and elsewhere during Henry's reign. A great way to also learn about the social norms in the 16th century. Having read the earlier books this has given me a good insight into Shardlakes character and a knowledge of his past and indeed the history of others like Barak and Guy. However it is perfectly okay to pick up Heartstone and read this book in isolation. I have found that some authors churn out books but seem to run out of ideas and thus become stale, but not C J Samson and I look forward to the next Shardlake adventure.
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Shardlake Goes to War - Sansom Provides a Quality Historical Novel,
This review is from: Heartstone (The Shardlake Series) (Hardcover)The latest instalment of Tudor lawyer Matthew Shardlake story is likely to become a favourite for many. As in Sovereign, Shardlake finds himself drawn into a dangerous world of politics, rubbing shoulders with those at the heart of the Henerician court and local government; like Dark Fire, it is not murder that draws him into his investigations, but something that, at first, might appear more innocuous.
Shardlake is asked by the Queen to investigate a matter, on behalf of an old servant, in the Court of Wards. To do so, he will have to travel to the south coast to take depositions. He decides to take the opportunity to find out more about Bedlam inmate Ellen Fettiplace (introduced in the previous book, Revelation) , whose birthplace lies on the way. The case appears to have stirred up potentially dangerous enemies, however, and powerful individuals who might have much to lose. Links between it and his interest in Ellen Fettiplace's background develop and Shardlake himself becomes obsessed with discovering the truth at, perhaps, any cost. Meanwhile, England prepares for a French invasion, with the fleet massing at nearby Portsmouth. His investigations will eventually lead to the Mary Rose, about to make her fateful voyage.
As with previous Shardlake outings, the book works not just as a mystery but also as a compelling and well drawn historical novel. Shardlake's world is deftly created. It is as detailed as the tapestries of a unicorn hunt that hang, in the story, on the walls of Hoyland Priory. The characters are never merely twenty-first century men and women in costume - they convince as people of their time, whilst bringing a modern eye to their psychology. There are very contemporary concerns on display. Perhaps it is impossible to write about the effects of war, without the reader seeing an oblique commentary on current conflicts. The book's strength is that it never descends into allegory or making crude points: it remains a story about events of the Tudor world. At the end it has a genuine emotional pay off.
It is not a perfect novel. There are, particularly towards the beginning, some less than wholly convincing scenes - an `info-dump' explanation of the process of Wardships and their abuses, uncomfortably turned into a conversation, stands out particularly. The story at times relies rather too heavily on Shardlake's obsessive desire to discover the truth, something previous books have wisely supplemented with some other compulsion to give him a reason to take risks and force him to continue. However, it also contains some of the best, and most atmospheric, writing of the Shardlake books. The portrait of a family Shardlake investigates, on the surface living a normal existence, but with the sense of something wrong and out of key beneath the surface is beautifully drawn. The images of Tudor warfare and of the world of the Mary Rose are clearly and sharply brought to life.
For those unfamiliar with Sansom's Tudor mysteries, this is, perhaps, not the ideal introduction, with greater reference to previous novels than before. Overall, however, a book I enjoyed and would recommend.
15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A bit of a let down,
This review is from: Heartstone (Matthew Shardlake 5) (Paperback)I am a Sanson fan, having greatly enjoyed the forerunners in the Shardlake series, ranking him with Ken Follett as an author whose merits as a story teller and sound historian more than outweigh a rather wooden and humourless literary style. But I was very disappointed with Heartstone. Firstly, it is far too long for the subject matter covered. There are basically only two story lines, one involving the possibility that a young man is being cheated of his inheritance (hardly ground breaking stuff) and the other a mystery about why a woman who fancies Matthew is being held in the Bedlam asylum. She is boring at best, and her love for Shardlake is never going to be reciprocated, so do we really care? As always, Matthew's arch nemesis Richard Rich lurks menacingly in the background, and there is the usual cast of dodgy extras. Sorry if my irritation shows.
Having established the not terribly inviting story llines early on, Sanson then plods on for a further five hundred pages or so before wrapping anything up, with Matthew's and Barak's endless wanderngs from home county to home county. Their horses plod through the mud like the book, soldiers are bored and tired (I know how they feel), servants are lazy, every disgusting meal and dreary inn is painstakingly recorded. Not a drop of rain goes unremarked, and when the sun shines through a window this is faithfully recorded, mote by mote. People are forever looking sardonic (I do wish he would stop over-using this ugly adjective) as they dart hard looks at one another through narrow eyes set in long faces. At one point Matthew looks across to a lawn "where Hugh was standing with both feet firmly planted on the grass".
The book finally lurches into Portsmouth and it's all aboard the Mary Rose during a visit by Henry VIII. I won't spoil it for you by revealing what happens next. Follett in even more execrable prose would have woven at least a dozen good yarns into a 700 pager like this. Sanson lets us down with a couple of turkeys. Sorry to be so dismissive. I usually go along with Amazon's star levels, but on thois occasion I must differ.
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Heartstone (The Shardlake Series) by C. J. Sansom (Hardcover - 3 Sep 2010)