Posts Tagged With: tudor period

Dissolution by C.J. Sansom

It is 1537 and the religious reforms are well underway under King Henry’s rule.  Lord Thomas Cromwell, Henry’s Chief Minister, is sending his men out to force the Monastories in Britain to surrender to his rule – and to take them down forcibly if they refuse.

However, in Scarnsea Monastery, commissioner Robin Singleton has been murdered while trying to force the surrender of the premises.  Matthew Shardlake is Thomas Cromwell’s commissioner sent to Scarnsea to uncover who murdered Singleton.  Accompanied by his loyal employee Mark Poer, Shardlake travels to Scarnsea and starts to uncover a web of lies and corruption, where there are more questions than answers and everybody is under suspicion.

As Shardlake investigates, he finds himself not only battling to discover the truth about how and why Singleton dies, but also starting to question all the beliefs which he has held so dear.

I thought this was a fascinating and enthralling book.  The story is satisfyingly complex, but not so much so that it is difficult to follow.

The book is told from Shardlake’s point of view and he is a likeable and engaging narrator.  World-weary but determined to be fair, his patterns of thought and his actions are entirely believeable.  The extended cast of characters – including Mark Poer and various Monks – is also believeable, with each character having their own distinct personality.  As is human nature, Shardlake is drawn to certain members of the Monastery more than others, but he is never able to completely trust any of them, and has to therefore keep some emotional distance, which gets hard at times.

The writing is equally descriptive and pacy.  As most of the book takes place at the isolated Monastery, there is a claustrophobic atmosphere throughout, which adds to the mystery surrounding Singleton’s death.  The mystery itself is engaging and for most of the book I had no idea who was guilty, and probably suspected almost every character at some point.

Also captured well is the time in which the book is set.  Henry VIII is an invisible and intimidating presence throughout and the tension felt at the reforms, coupled with people’s fear that nobody is safe, was vividly brought to life.

Another interesting aspect of Shardlake’s character was the way that he started to grow cynical about his own religious beliefs – and more specifically the acts being carried out in the name of that religion.  It will be interesting to see how this is developed in further books in this series.

Is it perfect?  Not quite – I felt that the final denouement was perhaps a little too sudden.  However, I liked the fact that I was kept guessing throughout.

I would highly recommend this book to fans of Tudor fiction and anyone who likes crime fiction from any period.

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Anne Boleyn: A New Life of England’s Tragic Queen by Joanna Denny

Anne Boleyn is one of the most famous Queens of England. Typically in literature she is described as the manipulative schemer who lured Henry VIII from his devoted wife Katharine of Aragon and later met her death on (probably trumped up) charges of Adultery, Incest and Treason.

In this book, Denny presents a different view of Anne, as a victim of Henry’s cold blooded-ness.  She asserts that Henry relentlessly pursued Anne, who resisted because of his marriage to Katharine.  Anne finally succumbed to Henry’s advances and was then cast aside when it no longer suited him to be married to her.

The book is written in a very ‘readable’ way.  I often find non-fiction to be somewhat dry; however this book flowed easily and held my interest throughout.

It has obviously been very well researched, and Denny is clearly a Boleyn enthusiast, with a lot of passion for her subject.  However, this is a double edged sword.  While I firmly believe that it is important for any biographer to really care about their subject, Denny’s own view means that this book is extremely biased.  Katharine of Aragon is described as a vicious, manipulative and unreasonable woman, who lied to fulfill her ambition to become Queen of England.  Anne is painted almost as a saint, who could do no wrong and was blameless in every respect.

Joanna Denny wrote this book to bring balance to the general view of Anne; however, she has not created balance but has merely tipped the scales all the way to the other side.  She claims that the critics of Anne are biased – and this may well be true – but unfortunately, Denny shows herself to be equally as biased.  The women in Anne’s world are portrayed as evil and two faced, with the exception of Elizabeth I, Anne’s daughter.

I would recommend this book to anyone with an interest in Anne or the Tudor period, but I do not think that this book is ‘the truth’ about Anne Boleyn, as the author claims.

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