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Dark Fire: A Novel Hardcover – January 13, 2005

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 502 pages
  • Publisher: Viking Adult (January 13, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0670033723
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670033720
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.6 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (165 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #574,535 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Matthew Shardlake, the marvelous hunchbacked 16th-century attorney who first appeared in Sansom's Dissolution, returns in this spellbinding Tudor-era tale of murder, conspiracy and betrayal. Shardlake normally handles property cases and the occasional dangerous mission for Lord Thomas Cromwell, the king's high counselor. Now he is engaged to defend a young woman accused of a curious murder, and the case seems hopeless. The girl refuses to speak and, under English law, unless she offers a plea in court she will be slowly crushed to death. Cromwell offers Shardlake a two-week stay of execution if he will agree to undertake a secret mission. Desperate to save the girl's life, Shardlake agrees. Rumors abound of a new and terrifying weapon called Greek Fire, and Cromwell orders Shardlake to find it, along with its secret formula and the two alchemists who possess it. Before Shardlake can even speak to the alchemists, they are brutally murdered, the formula and Greek Fire go missing, and horror and death are unleashed. Fortunately, Shardlake is aided by Jack Barak, a capable rogue working for Cromwell, and his old friend, Guy Malton, a peculiar apothecary. Sansom's vivid portrayal of squalid, stinking, bustling London; the city's wealth and poverty; the brutality and righteousness of religious persecution; and the complexities of English law make this a suspenseful, colorful and compelling tale.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Hunchback Matthew Shardlake may be one of the sharpest lawyers in sixteenth-century England, but his skills have failed him in the defense of a friend's niece accused of murder. When Henry VIII's vicar general, Thomas Cromwell, spares the convicted girl's life for 14 days, Shardlake knows the reprieve comes at a hefty price: in that time, the lawyer must find a lost cache of "dark fire," the liquid weapon of mass destruction Cromwell has promised to deliver to the increasingly ill-tempered king. With the help of one of Cromwell's impudent servants, Shardlake pursues clues leading him to alchemists, aristocrats, and barristers alike. But in a country bitterly split between Roman Catholics and the newly formed Church of England, it's difficult to distinguish friend from foe. The body count climbs ever higher as Shardlake inches closer to the truth--and toward the deadline for his client's execution. Like his gripping debut, Dissolution [BKL Ap 1 03], Sansom's second Shardlake thriller is suffused with rich period detail and an aura of foreboding. Allison Block
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars
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See all 165 customer reviews
The characters are well developed and the plot lines are interesting.
Alan M. Polansky
I so enjoyed 'Dissolution' and so was eager to read the next book in the Shardlake series.
Karen Malcolm
Sansom brings his characters, historical and fictional to life on the page.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

97 of 101 people found the following review helpful By Esther Schindler TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on May 9, 2005
Format: Hardcover
I had plans for this weekend. I had household projects to finish, a few errands to run, that sort of thing. None of them were accomplished, because -- for the first time in a long time -- I fell headfirst into a novel and didn't even want to climb out.

Dissolution was a good book, which I thoroughly enjoyed. However, because "murder in a monastary" is a familiar trope, it doesn't have as much of a sense of surprise or historical interest. Or perhaps the author is simply getting better with each book -- which is quite an accomplishment, considering how well he writes now.

Dark Fire succeeds on a number of levels. The protogaonist is interesting, both as a man of his times and an "enlightened" person who considers difficult questions. The writing immerses the reader in the era: not just the intertwined mysteries to be solved, but the smell of the Thames, the desperation of the beggars who once worked for the monastaries, the fascination with the discoveries arriving from the New World. And boy -- did Sansom pick an interesting time to write about, with political and religious upheaval that affected nearly everyone.

Yet, he doesn't let the scenery get in the way of the story. As with most mysteries, it's difficult to discuss the plot without giving it away. I'll just say that it's deliciously complex without being so twisty that you lose track of what's happening.

Great book, in other words. The sort we all love to discover. Highly recommended for anyone who wants a novel to keep your mind engaged without requiring serious scholarship.
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36 of 38 people found the following review helpful By ilmk on February 14, 2005
Format: Hardcover
C J Samson's second novel opens three years after the events at Scarnsea and we find our hunched hero, Matthew Shardlake getting involved in a criminal case where Elizabeth Wentworth is accused of the murder of her cousin. The facts are sketchy, Matthew's convinced of her innocence. The only problem is the accused refuses to speak.

Cromwell steps in to gain some time from the accused being peine forte et dure but the cost is Matthew must convince the renegade augmentation clerk, Gristwood to hand over the newly re-discovered formula to greek fire. Which swiftly proves impossible as Matthew and his new side-kick, Barak, find Gristwood dead. What follows are three plots lines as Samson weaves them altogether in a tangle so you're never sure which character is actually associated with which nefarious deed. Matthew rides round London, first on Chancery, then on another steed after Chancery winds up dead after saving Matthew's life, with twelve days to save Elizabeth, find out who is removing his cases from him and discover the whereabouts of the alchemist's formula.

Into the mix Samson stirs the lawyer, Bealknapp, with his unsavoury eye for financial gain, Sir Richard Rich, who is going round converting dissolved monasteries into tenement deathtraps, Lady Honor Vaughan, famous for her sugar parties and eclectic dinner conversation, the overly boorish and ambitious Lord Norfolk, the poorly lineaged but ever-grasping Serjeant Marchamount, and Matthew's master again, Lord Cromwell. Amongst it all a host of supporting characters from the downright nasty Wright and Tokey to the apothecary, Guy (from the first novel) move amongst the slums and mansions of London, from the Thames to the suburbs.
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27 of 28 people found the following review helpful By Ellis Bell VINE VOICE on May 19, 2005
Format: Hardcover
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.
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