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Dark Fire: A Novel Hardcover – January 13, 2005
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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.
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
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Top customer reviews
The book is very good, characters are well developed and stay true to themselves. They grow, change and develop in believable ways. The plot is a historical fiction mystery that stays true enough to history to be interesting and believable, but many characters may be made up. I'm ok with this and enjoyed the book. I bought and read the first in the series and this one. I would really like to read the series and will continue.
I, however, will be checking the third book from the library and this is why: this book, Dark Fire was fine for the first 26%. Then it started having a lot, and I mean a lot, of annoying typos. Normally I can over look most but these were enough to pause my reading. Such things as commas in middle of compound words, example: hope,fully. Periods in the.middle of sentences. And most annoying to me misspelling of serval primary characters names. I did the highlight, notifiy of content error for many but it got to be so frequent I soon tired of it.
As I said I will read the others, for free from the library because the description for the third, which is selling for $13.99 had a typo in it at the time I was looking to purchase the book. I consider that a bad sign.
The series is worth reading, and I found nothing else besides those to be negatives, but since I find them, at this frequency, highly annoying I will wait to read the others from the library as opposed to paying paperback prices.
At the same time, a client asks him to exonerate his niece, who is accused of pushing her young cousin into a well, resulting in his death. The teenager faces a horrific death if she is convicted, but she refuses to speak in her own defense. Why?
Matthew moves through London, talking to those who may be able to help him solve one or both mysteries. He is often frustrated in his quest but doesn't give up.
This book isn't bad, but it moves a little more slowly than Dissolution, the first book, and Lamentation, the most recent book, which are the two I have read so far. But for those willing to invest the time, it's a good story with lots of attention to historical detail. Reading Sansom's books makes me very happy I did not live in those days!
I liked this book only slightly less than the first book, Dissolution. I know it's a tired trope, but one really can't beat a monastery for atmospherics. But Sansom has done his research on the atmospherics of London as well, which leads to what seems to me an important point: If one fancies English historical novels with a lawyer as a sleuth, it is well to have them written by an Englishman trained as a solicitor with a doctorate in History, as per Sansom.
This book, for me, had darker undertones than Dissolution. The words on the barrel of Greek fire: Lupus est homo homini - Man is a wolf to man - are borne out relentlessly throughout the novel. The reader will have his/her stomach turned more than once by the many gruesome sights and acts made all the more harrowing by their being based on historical fact. The overall effect can become lugubrious indeed.
Yet Sansom retains his deft poetic touch as well. If I were asked to briefly express how all this business about dark fire ends up, I could do far worse than echoing Shardlake's reflections as he gazes out over the Thames:
"Something bright and fiery on the water made me start for a moment, then I saw it was only a ray of sunlight falling through the light cloud, flecking the waves tossed up by the wind a flickering bright yellow."