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Heartstone (The Shardlake Series) Paperback – 16 Jul 2015

4.7 out of 5 stars 1,003 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 768 pages
  • Publisher: Pan; New edition edition (16 July 2015)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1447285875
  • ISBN-13: 978-1447285878
  • Product Dimensions: 13.1 x 4.6 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1,003 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 3,854 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product description

Amazon Review

Many writers jostle for position at the top of the historical crime fiction tree, but for many aficionados one novelist has maintained an assured premium position for quite some time: the British writer CJ Sansom. His sprawling, exuberant and brilliantly organised novels featuring the wily hunchbacked lawyer Matthew Shardlake are particular favourites of those who seek something a little more ambitious in the field, and it's not hard to see why. Most of Sansom’s novels (which include Dissolution, Sovereign, Dark Fire and Revelation) seem positively operatic in their sheer scale, and the vividness of which Tudor England is covered by the author makes most other writing in the genre seem footling.

At over 600 pages, the new book, Heartstone, is one of his most imposing, but after a challenging, slowish start (something frequently attempted by Sansom -- like many good writers, he often demands a certain patience from his readers), the customary comprehensive grip is rigorously maintained. The invasion of France mounted by Henry VIII has been a disaster, and, in retaliation, an imposing French fleet is making preparations to cross the Channel. At Portsmouth, the English navy is readying itself for the battle of its life, and at Henry's autocratic direction, a massive militia army is being raised. England, reeling under the debasing of its currency to pay for the war, is suffering crippling inflation and economic meltdown. (If the thought of Britain's involvement in controversial foreign wars while suffering an economic crisis might remind the reader of a few contemporary parallels, there is little doubt that is exactly what CJ Sansom intends.) Against this tumultuous backdrop, the lawyer Matthew Shardlake is presented with a difficult case via an elderly servant of Queen Catherine Parr which will plunge him into the labyrinthine toils of the King's Court of Wards. Shardlake’s job is to look into wrongs which have been done to the young ward Hugh Curteys by a Hampshire landowner, and (as is customary with most cases involving Shardlake) violent death is soon on the agenda, as the threat of war lours.

Readers of CJ Sansom will know exactly what to expect here, and all the usual pleasures afforded by this massively talented writer are satisfyingly on offer. If Heartstone is not quite vintage Sansom, that is perhaps because the author has set (and maintained) such a high standard. But what the novel provides in terms of reach and achievement is streets ahead of most of his contemporaries. --Barry Forshaw --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.


`CJ Sansom combines a knack of getting us to experience the past with a talent for warmly memorable characterisation and skilled plot construction. We are as fond of the canny but vulnerable Tudor lawyer Matthew Shardlake and his macho sidekick Barak as we are of Patrick O'Brien's Aubrey and Maturin or Terry Pratchett's Lord Vetinari and Sam Vines...As well as expanding familiar characters, Sansom enjoys literary experiment...Thank goodness for every one of the 600 pages, Sansom's fans will say.'
--The Times - Christina Hardyment

'Sansom's attention to historical detail is rightly praised: he scrupulously avoids the jung-ho military jingoism common in other authors of historical fiction. One wonders if a modern-day version of Shardlake would be a useful man to have around the Pentagon. Yet it is the rich characterisation that really brings this series to life, none more so than Shardlake himself, a beguiling hero with a bent body but a strangely modern mind.' --Financial Times, Robert Orr

'Heartstone, as bristling as its predecessors with outlandish deaths, suspicious behaviour, jeopardy and plots of fiendish deviousness, plunges you into catastrophic upheavals caused by Henry's foreign policy. Throughout, Heartstone is a rousing tour de force of period re-creation, testifying to Samson's fascination with history...Like all the Shardlake books, Heartstone winningly shows Sansom's crafty flair for hoodwinking even the most hawk-eyed reader.' --Sunday Times Culture,Peter Kemp

'A great attraction of CJ Sansom's series of novels set in the reign of Henry VIII lies not merely in the authentic background but in the personality of the main character - that persistent seeker after truth, Matthew Shardlake, Sansom's intelligent hunchbacked Tudor lawyer... Sansom brilliantly exploits the hindsight we bring to the historical novel, for we turn the pages with bated breath, waiting for the inevitable, wondering who will survive. Life aboard the ship, top-heavy, crowded with soldiers and sailors, is rivetingly described. It's a long struggle for Shardlake, but the hill of truth is well worth climbing.' --The Independent, Jane Jakeman

'At once compulsively readable and highly satisfying...Sansom handles a large cast and a complex narrative with great skill and his set piece scenes, the sinking of the Mary Rose, for instance are simply stupendous. An entirely engrossing novel with an intriguing twist.' --Daily Express

'Murder, mystery and turbulent history are expertly twisted together in Sansom's fifth Tudor crime novel.' --Sunday Times 'Culture' Magazine

'Shardlake and Barak are one of the best double acts in historical fiction...If you haven't yet discovered the Shardlake series, you're in for a treat...'
--Lancashire Evening Post

'Murder, mystery and turbulent history are expertly twisted together in Sansom's fifth Tudor crime novel.' --Sunday Times 'Culture' Magazine

'...the pace and tension hot up splendidly as Shardlake's inquiries take him to the Hampshire home of a family with a great deal to hide. A wholly unexpected twist takes us to a superb denouement aboard the doomed warship Mary Rose - terrific stuff, for both fans and newcomers to the series.' --The Guardian

'The best crime fiction depends at least as much on character, atmosphere and sense of place as on plot, and Heartstone is no exception... This is good writing and it should be read.' --The Spectator

'Sansom... is superb at evoking the atmosphere of the time, from the anxiety of the populace about the debased coinage to pay for the king's recklessness, to the very fear that the French threat inspired. The historical detail is finely drawn and, as in the previous books, the voices of the characters strike just the right balance between accessibility for the modern ear and period flavour.' --Eastern Daily Press

'As in many good crime series of whatever epoch, the central character evolves from novel to novel... Shardlake is feeling his age, and the double isolation of his physical disability and his religious disbelief puts him constantly on his guard' --TLS, Ruth Morse

'CJ Sansom's Tudor-set legal thrillers have been an astounding success due to their period detail, careful plotting and deft characterisation... Sansom writes evocatively about Tudor London' --Catholic Herald

'CJ Sansom writes with verve and conviction, drawing the reader into the heat and terror of the summer of 1545.' --The Daily Express

'Sansom's resourcefulness is on display here in all its glory...another lesson in history for all of us.' --Oxford Times

'Sansom is completely in control of his material and paces his yarn perfectly. Sly comments on Henry's unwise expansionist ambitions have modern echoes, but Sansom's own attempts at expansionism need not cause concern - you will speed through this novel like King You-Know-Who devouring a capon.'
--Daily Telegraph --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
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.
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Format: 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.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
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.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
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.
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