Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Review: Lamentation by C.J. Sansom

Lamentation (Matthew Shardlake, Book #6)
by C.J. Sansom
Release Date: February 24th 2015
2015 Mulholland Books
Ebook Edition; 642 Pages
ISBN: 978-0316254960
Genre: Fiction / Historical / Suspense
Source: Review copy from publisher

4.5 / 5 Stars

Autumn, 1546. King Henry VIII is slowly, painfully dying. His Protestant and Catholic councillors prepare for a final and decisive power struggle; whoever wins will control the government. The Catholics decide to focus their attack on Henry's sixth wife, the Protestant Queen Catherine Parr. As Catherine begins to lose the King's favour, she turns to the shrewd, hunchbacked lawyer, Matthew Shardlake, to contain a potentially fatal secret.

The Queen has written a confessional book, Lamentation of a Sinner, a memoir so radical that if it came to the King's attention, it could bring her and her courtly sympathizers to ruination. The London printer into whose hands she entrusted the manuscript has been murdered, the book nowhere to be found.

Shardlake's investigations take him down a trail that begins among printshops in the filthy backstreets of London, but leads him once more to the labyrinthine world of court politics, where Protestant friends can be as dangerous as Catholic enemies, and those who will support either side to further their ambition are the most dangerous of all.

My Thoughts
Lamentation is the sixth book in the Matthew Shardlake series, and once again Sansom does not disappoint in bringing the sixteenth century vividly to life.  This time, the author focuses on the end of Henry VIII's life as the fight between radicalism and conservatism continues its heavy toll on the populace of England. Considering the opening scene of this novel is the vivid and descriptive burning of Anne Askew, the only woman known to have been tortured in the Tower of London, it definitely sets the tone for what is to follow.  Soon after this, Matthew is summoned to court by Queen Catherine to search for a missing manuscript, "Lamentation of a Sinner." The theft of the manuscript is actually fictional, but the manuscript does exist and was published after Henry's death.

As always, the descriptions about everything regarding Tudor England are detailed and very vivid. When I read a Sansom novel I always feel like I am right there and can see through Matthew's eyes; it is one of the great things about this novel. You get a real sense of the daily fear that people lived with during this time period through the actions of the characters and how easily beliefs could change from day to day; one day being secure in one's religious beliefs while the next can send you to the gallows or the Tower.  

This novel is definitely much more of a political thriller than a mystery novel, and I really enjoyed that aspect to it.  I tend to read a lot of crime novels and I find the political machinations to be quite thrilling and gripping; seeing the fine interplay between the characters was quite thrilling, the historical as well as the fictional. To try to understand the deadly games that were played at court on a daily basis is quite interesting, but I can't understand how stressful that much have been to live your life always in fear of being back stabbed or to be constantly in fear of your life and for your family. To have to play a living game of chess all of  the time.  All of Henry's children appear in this novel though, and I began to wonder where the author was taking us throughout the novel; my suspicions were definitely confirmed at the end, and I definitely can't wait until the next installment to see what happens next.  Historically, we all know what happens to poor Edward and I will be holding my breath through the Mary years, but there should be some interesting times ahead.

That being said, while I thoroughly enjoyed the plot, at over 600 pages it is definitely a long novel, and one which doesn't really have much of a clear mystery to it, like the previous novels.  This one is much more convoluted and may annoy some readers as Matthew is not only searching for the missing manuscript, but also has to deal with the investigation into Anne Askew's torture as well as a dispute between a feuding brother and sister which has dire consequences for Matthew.  There is also quite a bit of focus on Matthew's personal relationships, both with his close friends and his 'enemies' at court, one of whom is Richard Rich, with whom he has a history.  I do think the whole thing could be a bit much, especially if you are not already familiar with the characters and the books.

Lamentation is a novel that I thoroughly enjoyed, but one that is quite convoluted; it is more of a political thriller as I really felt like the mysteries took a back seat to the political machinations and intrigues. While I am always shocked at some of the developments and at some of the actions taken by the characters, it definitely reflects the time period, and I like that immensely.  This was definitely a time period that was very challenging for people as they had to survive Henry's whims and I have to admire how the author brought that out in his novel.  I am a huge fan of this series and I definitely can't wait to see what happens to Matthew next.