Thursday, September 30, 2010

Review: Heartstone by C.J Sansom

Purchase Information:
Imprint: Mantle
ISBN: 9780230711259
Binding: Trade Paperback
Pub. Date: 1/09/2010
Pages: 638
Category: Crime & Mystery
Book 5 in the Shardlake series.

Summer, 1545. England is at war. Henry VIII's invasion of France has gone badly wrong, and a massive French fleet is preparing to sail across the Channel. As the English fleet gathers at Portsmouth, the country raises the largest militia army it has ever seen. The King has debased the currency to pay for the war, and England is in the grip of soaring inflation and economic crisis.
Meanwhile Matthew Shardlake is given an intriguing legal case by an old servant of Queen Catherine Parr. Asked to investigate claims of "monstrous wrongs" committed against a young ward of the court, which have already involved one mysterious death, Shardlake and his assistant Barak journey to Portsmouth.
Once arrived, Shardlake and Barak find themselves in a city preparing to become a war zone; and Shardlake takes the opportunity to also investigate the mysterious past of Ellen Fettipace, a young woman incarcerated in the Bedlam. The emerging mysteries around the young ward, and the events that destroyed Ellen's family nineteen years before, involve Shardlake in reunions both with an old friend and an old enemy close to the throne. Events will converge on board one of the King's great warships, primed for battle in Portsmouth harbour: the Mary Rose...

This book came in the mail from Pan Macmillan, and was a nice surprise. This is the fifth book in the Shardlake series, which began with Dissolution, Dark Fire, Sovereign and Revelation. This is the first book in the series I have read.
Shardlake is contacted by Queen Catherine Parr with a request for Matthew, from an old employee. The employees son has committed suicide and had put in a request with the Court of Wards about a young man he used to tutor. That 'monstrous wrongs' were done to the boy. The mother asks Shardlake to look into her sons request to see why he had gone out of his mind and killed himself. Shardlake takes on the case. He has to travel close to Portsmouth where the King's warships are stationed waiting for the French invasion. Shardlake has also decided to look into the past of a woman he regularly visits at the Bedlam. He knows there is something there and wishes to find out the truth.
Matthew Shardlake is a champion for those less fortunate, and has to try and find the truth in everything, which doesn't make him many friends, and gets him into trouble. His assistant Barak helps him, but in this book begins to tell Shardlake that this time maybe he should leave well alone. Barak is his sort of voice of reason. I enjoyed Matthew and Barak's characters, they are good friends and work well together. Matthew feels he needs to find the truth while Barak questions his motives and tries to make him see the consequences of his actions. I felt for Matthew, having a disfigurement didn't make life easy for him, he dealt with the abuse that people gave him, and got on with his life. I liked how he helps those less fortunate, even if it puts his life in danger. Once he's on to something he won't stop until he has the truth, thinking that even if it hurts people the truth is always the best. His friend Barak is quite a strong secondary character and has more of a extroverted character. This gets him in a bit of trouble with a recruiting officer and he has to ask Matthew for help to get him out of going to war. His wife is pregnant and he worries about her and doesn't want to leave when the have to travel to Hoyland Priory where the young man lives. When Matthew discovers the truth to both mysteries, it pits his life in danger. He ends up on the Mary Rose, the King's greatest warship, and is there when tragedy strikes. What happens to Matthew changes him and his outlook. Maybe he doesn't need to go chasing down the truth all the time. The ending comes together nicely, and everyone goes about their lives again. Some are changed forever though.
Hearstone is a very large book with a lot of story. It is richly described, almost as if the author has been there and seen everything. There was lots of mystery and intrigue to keep me interested. Sometimes with such large novels the plot can be lost and you lose interest. I never felt that with Heartstone. The conclusion is rather epic, and the author ties history and fiction together so well, you wouldn't know the difference. I liked the addition of  people who were alive in 1545, the most obvious being the King and Queen, but also minor characters who Shardlake meets and interacts with. Heartstone is compelling, sumptuous, thrilling, and kept me turning the pages. If you like history with your mystery, Heartstone is the way to go. I wish I could read the other books in this series. I give it 4.5/5.


  1. I love C. J. Samson, and this serie. I have read Dissolution, Dark Fire, Sovereign, and i will read Revelation and Heartstone this month

  2. I haven't read this series, but it sounds like a fantastic historical one! Love that time period. Back when I first started writing more seriously, I considered writing historicals, and had even begun to do research for a book set in the Tudor period. But alas, it was not meant to be. I'll just have to read others' books set in that period ;)

  3. I haven't heard of this series, but it surely sounds like something I would enjoy.
    My father has instilled me his love for history and this is an EPIC book. I love the fact that it is a series.. I would love to read all 5 now and it's a shame my father doesn't speak English because I'm certain he would love it too!
    Thanks for the review!

  4. This is a new author for me and the story sounds intriguing. But that cover it what stopped me in my tracks, love that cover.