Customer Reviews: Dark Fire: A Matthew Shardlake Tudor Mystery
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on May 31, 2014
That's how vividly Sansom writes.

This is the pinnacle of the Matthew Shardlake series for me, but each book in the series has something wonderful to offer. It's the central mystery (the "dark fire" itself) in this one that fascinated me, but equally wonderful is the keen characterization and gorgeous description.
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on May 23, 2014
This series provides a great look into the intrigue that existed in England during the 16th century. Great detail of the period, both in daily life and in the political and religious environment. The core of the story (the search for Dark Fire) is skillfully balanced by Shardlake's timetable to solve a murder and save a girl's life. Fun twists and turns, with plenty of action and blood.

I liked the Jack Barack character and the transition of Brother Guy from Dissolution into one of Shardlake's trusted advisors. This series has made me a fan of historical fiction, which was a totally new genre for me.
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on May 23, 2014
“Dark Fire” is an excellent read, both entertaining and informative. C.J. Sansom’s second chronicle of lawyer Matthew Shardlake provides horrific murders against a historian’s backdrop of the mixed squalor and opulence that was sixteenth century London.
As one who saw Paul Scofield portray Sir Thomas More, “A Man for All Seasons”, both on stage and in the Academy Award-winning movie, I came to the Sansom novels with a predisposed notion that Thomas Cromwell was a cold-hearted, conniving schemer, that Richard Rich was as false as he was ambitious, and that the Duke of Norfolk, if too proud, was also a man of honor and rectitude. Having read subsequently, Roper’s biography of More and some of Sir Thomas’ own vituperative and vindictive prose, I realized that there are two sides to every story, and that Richard Bolt rounded off many rough spots when he wrote his play and the script for his movie.
Sansom’s Cromwell, while cold-blooded and scheming, is also a man who believes, not in the Reformed theology to which he pays lip service, but in a vision of a commonwealth where enlightened self-interest allows prosperous citizens to alleviate the appalling distress of the impoverished populace. The prosperous found such ideas preposterous—as well they might without modern sensibilities. Sansom provides interest by contrasting three of Cromwell’s followers, Shardlake, whose success at the bar was due in part to Cromwell’s patronage, Jack Barak, who owed his life to Cromwell’s intervention when Barak faced hanging for stealing a ham, and Master Grey, Cromwell’s dogsbody secretary.
Sansom's Richard Rich has a spine, a charm, and a presence that he singularly lacked in Bolt's portrayal. I expect to see him again as Shardlake grows older.
Roman Catholics are portrayed unsympathetically. Sansom’s Duke of Norfolk, a committed "papist," is unsympathetic, imperious, and incontinent. As Cromwell’s enemy, he is also hostile to Cromwell’s associates, Shardlake among them. Catholicism is equated with superstition among the people and with pederasty among the clergy. The plot is minimally advanced when Barak says, “A member of the conservative faction, a most holy cleric, used to frequent one of the boy-houses…” When Catholics such as Guy the Moorish apothecary and Kytchyn the librarian are portrayed sympathetically there is no suggestion that their decency is related to their religion. Barak’s Jewish ancestry—at a time when Jews had been banished from England—is treated much more respectfully.
Most of the book takes place over a two-week period in which Shardlake pursues three tasks simultaneously: tracking down Greek Fire (Dark Fire) for Cromwell, bringing a civil suit against a slumlord lawyer, and attempting the defense of a young girl accused of murdering her twelve-year-old cousin. An ax-swinging villain assures bloody murders and periodic attacks upon both Shardlake and the stalwart, cynical Barak who spies upon and protects him. The proud Lady Honor Bryanston provides some underplayed romantic interest.
The reign of Henry VIII was one in which people died (or were killed) for what they believed, but no one in Sansom’s story articulates his faith. Joseph Wentworth, the uncle of the accused teenager, suffers and sacrifices for his niece, and when she is eventually acquitted, he shows loving concern for his brother Edwin, who had been proud and abusive during the girl’s trial. Did religion motivate Joseph? Such a sixteenth century notion would have been out of place, apparently, in this twenty-first century novel.
For all that, I will buy volume three of the Shardlake mysteries this weekend to see what bloody murders and ugly stenches await him next.
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VINE VOICEon July 24, 2005
This series about Matthew Shardlake, a humpbacked lawyer during the reign of Henry VIII, is excellent. All of the characters, main and peripheral, are finely drawn, and fully-fleshed. The mystery at the heart of this book is extremely interesting, and the red herrings abound. Not only do we get a rippingly good tale, but we learn more of the political and religious history of this time in the Tudor dynasty. The historical characters are true to themselves, and the fictional ones intermesh completely. This series has only two books to date, but I sincerely hope that the author has many more planned for the future. I, for one, will read them gladly.
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on June 18, 2015
I didn't really like the ending for the first book in the series, Dissolution, but I decided to give Matthew Shardlake another shot. I'm glad I did because this one was much better! The whole Dark Fire plot seems a little farfetched but somehow it worked, and the two murder plotlines together ensured that the story never got too "slow." I'll keep reading the series - if for no other reason than to see if Matthew ever stops striking out with the ladies!
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on August 3, 2011
If you like mystery and murder set in medieval times, this is the book for you. Dark Fire refers to Greek Fire and medieval England's search for the lost art of how to create it. Matthew Shardlake, our hero, must discover the secret of making Dark Fire and yet each time he closes in; someone dies. Great reading.
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on January 25, 2016
This is one of a series, best to start from the first. Well-written, kept my interest. when an author grabs my attention, I find what else they have written and read the other books as well. I have a hard time finding authors with enough complexities in the plot and clever writing that captures my attention.
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on September 28, 2015
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. The only drawback was the editing. Periods placed in the middle of sentences, words replaced by similar sounding words that make the flow somewhat exasperating.
I can only hope that the next book in the series is better edited as I am addicted to this series!
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on June 26, 2012
Dark Fire, one of a series of historical novels by C.J. Sansom, is a great read, particularly for summer. Protagonist Matthew Shardlake is a lawyer with a hunchback -- an unlikely heroic figure in Henry VIII's England. But Matthew matches wits and wisdom with some of the towering figures of Henry VIII's reign -- and remembers the downtrodden as well. Loved the whole series!
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on September 6, 2012
Matthew Shardlake doesn't blow the reader away with his inate brilliance ala Sherlock Holmes. Rather he is a grerat ploddeer, doggedly pursuing any and all clues until the solution is finally apparent. The author as usual, has extensively researched the period or Henry VIII's England resulting in the reader feeling immersed in fetid, putrid London of the time. Shardlake finds himself once more into the breach courtesy of Lord Cromwell searching for the source of Dark Fire or Greek Fire, a weapon of the ancient Byzantines. Unfortunately for Shardlake, Cromwell has promised King Henry a demonstration of the weapon. Cromwell has in fact seen a demonstration of the weapon, whichis now lost along with the two persons who brought the weapon to him. With murder and mayhem at every turn, as enemies of Cromwell seek to murder anyone who might have knowledge of the weapon. Shardlake seeks to solve the mystery with the onus of having a client put to death if he cannot bring Cromwell's problem to a close in less than two weeks time.

This is a gripping read, with plots and subplots galore. Despite his physical limitations, Master Shardlake perserveres at great peril to his good self. The solutions are truly unexpected to all of the problmes. Great read as usual. HIghly recommend C.J. Sansom's Shardlake to anyone who enjoys historical fiction.
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