Sunday, March 10, 2019

Review: Tombland by C.J. Sansom

Tombland (Matthew Shardlake, Book #7)
by C.J. Sansom
Release date: October 18th 2018
2018 Pan MacMillan - Mantle
Kindle Edition; 866 Pages
ISBN: 978-1447284482
Genre: Fiction / Historical / Mystery
Source: Revew copy from publisher

4 / 5 Stars


Spring, 1549. Two years after the death of Henry VIII, England is sliding into chaos . . .

The nominal king, Edward VI, is eleven years old. His uncle Edward Seymour, Lord Hertford, rules as Protector. The extirpation of the old religion by radical Protestants is stirring discontent among the populace while the Protector's prolonged war with Scotland is proving a disastrous failure and threatens to involve France. Worst of all, the economy is in collapse, inflation rages and rebellion is stirring among the peasantry. 

Since the old King's death, Matthew Shardlake has been working as a lawyer in the service of Henry's younger daughter, the Lady Elizabeth. The gruesome murder of the wife of a distant Norfolk relation of Elizabeth's mother, John Boleyn - which could have political implications for Elizabeth - brings Shardlake and his assistant Nicholas Overton to the summer assizes at Norwich. There they are reunited with Shardlake's former assistant Jack Barak. The three find layers of mystery and danger surrounding the death of Edith Boleyn, as a second murder is committed. And then East Anglia explodes, as peasant rebellion breaks out across the country. Barak throws in his lot with the rebels; Nicholas, opposed to them, becomes a prisoner in Norwich Castle; while Shardlake has to decide where his ultimate loyalties lie, as government forces in London prepare to march north and destroy the rebels. Meanwhile he discovers that the murder of Edith Boleyn may have connections reaching into both the heart of the rebel camp and of the Norfolk gentry . . .

My Thoughts
Tombland is the seventh book in an amazing series, but I don't think it was one of his better ones.  While I liked this book, I don't necessarily think it was his best. And as a reviewer I also have to look at it critically and as the book is listed as a mystery novel, not just historical fiction,  it needs to be evaluated as such.  And while the historical parts to the novel were great, the actual mystery did kind of take a back seat to the rebellion and kind of got lost a bit in the midst of what was happening.  However, the writing is mesmerizing and you feel like you are right in the midst of everything; the sweat, the fear, the blood, the misery, but also the excitement and hope people felt at fighting back.

What can I say?  I love Matthew Shardlake as a character and have since the first book.   I really felt like he got the short end of the stick on this one though, as how he could investigate the murder of a relation to Princess Elizabeth without rousing undue attention was utterly beyond me.  Of course he's going to attract the attention of the powers that be and get caught up in events of which he has no understanding as yet again, he was not being told the whole picture.  It does get frustrating at times because you would think, after everything he has done for them, that they would at least give Matthew some understanding of exactly what was happening and not just the undercurrents.  And then expect him to complete everything in a matter of days on top of it, frustrating.  So the nuances at play here are brilliant; you really do need some understanding of history though to be able to put it all together and understand a lot of the political intrigues that are happening here.  I really felt that Nicholas was the most developed character in this book, Barak just kind of got on my nerves, and you could tell that Toby would be the one who would cause problems later, just because there has to be that kind of character, you know?  A bit predictable. 

I am so glad this author wrote about this period of time as he did it wonderfully, bringing to light the English Rebellions, a time period where there were many violent responses to land enclosures against the rich and wealthy landowners.  And while I do agree that this was a time of great importance, and the story was engaging, the author did lose sight of the main issue, which was to find the killer of Edith Boleyn.  It was quite easy to figure out what happened to Edith, but I could see how the reader might have got lost amid all of the events surrounding the rebellion and the events that occurred because of it. And if you aren't interested in history, and the day-to-day workings of what happened, this book could have a tendency to drag on. Half of the book is devoted to the rebellion so people may not find that interesting if you are looking for a mystery novel.  And while I was glad that Matthew got what he deserved in the end, I wasn't actually too impressed with the how; was it really necessary? And yes, it felt a bit contrived.  When you read the book, you will know what I am talking about as I don't want to give too much away.

Tombland is one of those books that I enjoyed tremendously when it came to the historical aspect, but was a bit disappointed in when it came to the mystery and the character development.  I adore Matthew as a character, but really felt that, although he was in the midst of a lot of events, he also seemed to take a back seat to a lot of things too.  By that, I mean that he seemed to wait for things around him to happen which is not the character with which I am familiar in previous books, one who took charge and made things happen.  In other words, it seemed like he just couldn't make a firm decision on anything and it was a bit frustrating.  And although I understand the context in which he found himself, I am pretty sure he could have done more to stand up for himself and those he cared about.  Overall, the story was interesting, but definitely not on par with some of the author's previous novels, and the character development was a bit flimsy at best. Will I read another book by this author? Oh, yes, simply because I enjoy his writing style and I love Matthew, so hoping for a better mystery next time.