Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Book: Dark Fire by C J Sansom

Matthew Shardlake is a property lawyer in Henry VIII's England. Joseph Wentworth, one of his previous clients, comes to him and asks him to defend his niece against a charge of murdering her cousin. Due to Elizabeth's unwillingness to pleas, the judge has to be persuaded not to press her (a form of torture which made me shudder just from describing it) and Cromwell has to step in and stall her sentencing for 2 weeks, but his intervention comes at a price. Cromwell wants Shardlake to investigate two brothers who claim to have a recipe for Greek Fire (also known as Dark Fire). Bur soon Shardlake and the assistant imposed upon him, Barak, find that the investigation that Cromwell wants them to pursue is much more dangerous than they imagined. Their investigations may lead to answers but even they do not tell Shardlake the answer to whether or not Greek Fire should even be allowed to exist.

Link to Goodreads

I read Dark Fire at the insitance of my grandparents who said I would enjoy it. They were right, I did, despite the fact that this isn't the 'normal' kind of historical fiction that I like to read. In fact, at times I found it difficult to think of Dark Fire as set in the Tudor time period.

I will admit to being slightly concerned about the supernatural elements of Dark Fire but thankfully I was left feeling relieved that there weren't really any. It may seem silly to be bothered about the supernatural in historical fiction, but I like my historical fiction to be just that, historical. In the end, I think that I decided that the dark fire was actually what we would know as petrol, just majorly before its time.

Saying that, I felt that I was fully able to appreciate the story as what it was, a murder mystery. There were two 'sets' of murders in the book, and I must admit that I was more drawn to the Elizabeth's case than the case bestowed upon Shardlake by Cromwell, probably because of the simple fact that there were very few female characters in Dark Fire.

Though I found it interesting to read a historical novel set in Tudor times from a male perspective, as opposed to the female perspective that I normally go for, there was a very large deficit of female characters in Dark Fire, which is something I do struggle to get my head around at times. Though the story of Dark Fire really captivated me and so it wasn't really a major major issue.

As with all Tudor novels there is a back drop of political games and power grabbing among the nobility, ignoring the plight of the common people and using them as pawns. Though not set at court, Dark Fire is set against the power play between Thomas Cromwell and the Duke of Norfolk at the end of Henry VIII's marriage to Anne of Cleves. As it is well documented, those are turbulent times, and many of the prominent characters in Dark Fire are forced to flee because of their political loyalties.

Something that I found interesting was the use of the law in Dark Fire, having studied English contract law as part of my University course, I found it interesting that the characters used some of the principles that I have learnt about, despite when the story was set.

An interesting, gritty, historical murder mystery worth a read!