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C. J. Sansom

A-SovereignIn the third novel in the series (after 2005’s Dark Fire), Matthew Shardlake, a humpbacked London barrister in the 16th century, is appointed legal counsel for the "progress"—the sickly Henry VIII’s and his royal entourage’s long march up to rebellious York, the site of a thwarted conspiracy against the monarchy. The York residents are still far from sympathetic to Henry and resent his restrictive laws. Amid this political turmoil, Shardlake and his clerk accept a commission to accompany a traitor from York back to the Tower of London. As the lawyer simultaneously investigates the murder of a master glazier linked to the York rebellion, questions about the royal line arise that may jeopardize his life.
Viking. 592 pages. $25.95. ISBN: 0670038318

Birmingham Post 4.5 of 5 Stars
"The skill with which C. J. Sansom is able to conjure up the sights, smells and sounds of Tudor England is unrivalled, and if the mystery he wove for his protagonist to solve was any less compelling, his novel would be worth buying purely for the total immersion it offers the reader into an exciting bygone age. … It’s a real treasure." Emma Pinch

Philadelphia Inquirer 4 of 5 Stars
"If you are already tired of the sexed-up vision of the period in [Showtime’s television series] The Tudors, Sansom provides a sobering antidote. … Shardlake’s reward may be meager, but readers will find ample dividends in this trio of novels, which deserve the praise heaped on them in England." Desmond Ryan

Sunday Telegraph [UK] 4 of 5 Stars
"Sovereign … following Dissolution and Dark Fire, is the best so far. … Sansom has the perfect mixture of novelistic passion and historical detail (although Barak’s 16th-century Nixonian language might have a few of its expletives deleted in the next book)." Antonia Fraser

Tampa Tribune 4 of 5 Stars
"Sovereign is an example of what an excellent historical mystery should be—painless learning. … It has a truly compelling plot with a protagonist both interesting and sympathetic." Larry Gandle

USA Today 4 of 5 Stars
"When historical fiction clicks, there’s nothing more gripping. … Rebellion, plots, torture, fanaticism, a murder mystery and real historical scandal come alive in this deeply satisfying novel." Deirdre Donahue

Boston Globe 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Add in the usual political intrigue, including the return of an old enemy, Sir Richard Rich, and the 592 pages of this thick tome trip along nicely. … In general his story lines have increased in depth as not only does Shardlake prove the glazier’s death to be a murder, but its investigation leads the lawyer into other crimes." Clea Simon

Critical Summary

In Dissolution, reformist Matthew Shardlake works with Thomas Cromwell to investigate the death of a royal commissioner; in Dark Fire, he defends a young woman accused of murder. Critics agree that Sovereign is as good as, or even better than, its predecessors. Themes of political ruses, conspiracy, religious fanaticism, and murder, combined with sophisticated plotting, meticulously researched details, and convincing characters (including a cruel, paranoid Henry) recreate the repression, tyranny, and gory minutiae of Tudor England. (Soft romance is patently absent.) A few critics commented on the heft of the novel, but in the end they agreed that Sovereign is an outstanding work of historical fiction.