Skip to main content

Review: Dark Fire, by CJ Sansom


Tudorian England is brought to life in this highly suspenseful novel of murder and mayhem in London.

Its 1540, and King Henry is preparing to divorce his fourth wife, the German Anne of Cleves, and marry "the harlot" Catherine Howard. All of London is on shaky ground, as loyalties shift back and forth. Everyone is concerned that, with Catherine as Queen of England, the country will be returned back to its Catholic past. Into all this comes Thomas Cromwell, advisor to the king and strongly out of disfavor due to the Cleves marriage. Cromwell feeels that he must get back into the graces of king by digging up Greek Fire- a Weapon of Mass Destruction that could make or break the future of England. He will give the king a demonstration on June 10th- an inocuous day, since it turns out to be the day on which Cromwell is arrested by the king's men. Greek Fire itself, a real substance, was invented by the Byzantines and needs petroleum in order to make it work properly. It is called Dark Fire because the formula is of a black color. The author made up the whole bit about Greek Fire being rediscovered, since there is no way that the English could have known about natural gas in the 16th century. Despite this, this is an excellent read.

Matthew Shardlake is a highly regarded lawyer in the City. On the same day that he is hired to investigate Greek Fire, he is also called to investigate the case of Elizabeth Wentworth, who supposidly pushed her cousin Ralph down a well. The case is a gruesome one; and what is found down at the bottom of the well is not for the sqeemish.

The case of Greek Fire leads Shardlake and his assistant, Barak, to investigate the ruins of the old monasteries, torn down in the eight years since King Henry's break with Rome. In the course of their investigation, they have run-ins with a pock-faced man, a wealthy noblewoman, and the uncle of Catherine Howard. London is detailed in intimate detail, and emphasis is placed upon the lives of ordinary people in 16th-century London. This is an exciting, fast-paced read, good for anyone who likes mysteries and historical fiction. In addition, the author includes a very helpful historical note at the end which details the historical authenticity of Greek Fire and explains the whole Henry-Anne of Cleves-Catherine Howard-Thomas Cromwell deal.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Review: Forever Amber, by Kathleen Winsor

Pages: 972 Originally published: 1944 My edition: 2000 (Chicago Review Press) How I acquired my copy: Amazon.com, 2004

Forever Amber takes place in the 1660s, immediately follwing Charles II's ("the Merry Monarch") return of the Stuarts to the English throne. The book features Amber St. Claire, a young woman who starts out as a sixteen-year-old country girl, naieve to the workings of the world. She immediately meets Bruce Carlton, a dashing young Cavalier, with whom she has a passionate love affair in choppy intervals throughout the book. They have two children together, but Bruce won't marry her for the reason he tells his friend Lord Almsbury: that Amber just isn't the kind of woman one marries.

Upon following Bruce to London, he goes to Virginia, leaving her to fend for herself. What follows is a series of affairs and four marriages, with Bruce coming back from America now and then. Amber's marriages are imprudent: her first husband is a gambler, her second is…

Review: Jane Austen's Letters, ed. by Deirdre Le Faye

Pages: 667 Original date of publication: 2011 My copy: 2011 (Oxford University Press) Why I decided to read: How I acquired my copy: Amazon.com, April 2013
This is a compilation of many of Jane Austen’s letters, most of them sent to her sister Cassandra between 1796 and 1817, the year of her death. Although many of Austen’s letters were destroyed by her sister in order to preserve the family reputation, the collection contains over 160 letters in which Austen gives her sister details about her life in Chawton—as well as giving us a tantalizing glimpse of what was going through her mind as she was writing her novels (especially the novel that was to become Pride and Prejudice, First Impressions). There are other letters here, too, giving advice to her niece and professional correspondence to publishers—as well as a couple of letters that were written by Cassandra Austen after Jane’s death.
To the sisters, the letters acted in the way that phone calls do today; Austen’s news is all about pe…

2015 Reading

January
1. The Vanishing Witch, by Karen Maitland
2. Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen
3. Texts From Jane Eyre, by Mallory Ortberg
4. Brighton Rock, by Graham Green
5. Brat Farrar, by Josephine Tey
6. Eat, Pray, Love, by Elizabeth Gilbert
7. Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy
8. A Movable Feast, by Ernest Hemingway
9. A Room of One's Own, by Virginia Woolf
10. Other Voices, Other Rooms, by Truman Capote
11. Maggie-Now, by Betty Smith

February
1. Middlemarch, by George Eliot
2. To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
3. Nerdy, Shy, and Socially Inappropriate, by Cynthia Lee
4. Music For Chameleons, by Truman Capote
5. Peyton Place, by Grace Metalious
6. Unrequited, by Lisa Phillips
7. Brideshead Revisited, by Evelyn Waugh
8. A Lost Lady, by Willa Cather

March
1. Persuasion, by Jane Austen
2. Love With a Chance of Drowning, by Torre DeRoche
3. One Hundred Years of Solitude, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
4. Miss Buncle's Book, by DE Stevenson
5. One Hundred Years of Solitude, by Gabriel Garc…