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Publisher's Summary

C. J. Sansom is an international best-selling author known for riveting suspense and intricately constructed mysteries. His atmospheric prose has earned him an Ellis Peters Historical Dagger Award, among other accolades.

In the third novel in this riveting series, barrister Matthew Shardlake is faced with the most terrifying threat in the age of Tudor England: his own imprisonment in the Tower of London.

Harsh autumn winds stir the English countryside as King Henry VIII, along with a thousand soldiers and his fifth wife, Catherine Howard, make their way from London to York after a violent uprising. Shardlake and his loyal assistant, John Barack, have a secret mission - they must transport a dangerous conspirator back to London for interrogation.

After a local glazier is murdered, Shardlake finds that this death seems not only connected to the prisoner, but to the royal family itself. Shardlake grows more determined when he realizes that a greater threat looms over the crown.

©2007 C. J. Sansom; (P)2008 Recorded Books, LLC

Critic Reviews

"An engaging mix of history and fiction that Sansom has made his own." (Boston Globe)

What members say

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Very good mystery

This is the third volume in the Matthew Shardlake mystery series. While I felt that the first book in the series was first rate I was disappointed with the second book which, I felt, had little real plot and in which the identity of the murderer was fairly obvious. I had hoped that the third volume would be better and I was not disappointed.

The events of this book take place during the period when Catherine Howard was Queen and the King and Queen were on a Royal Progress to the North Country after a northern rebellion. Matthew Shardlake, who is part of the Progress because of a job he has been given, finds himself involved in the investigation of a death and that investigation takes him deeply into matters that involve the Royal Family, the succession and the rebellion. And, for him, these are very dangerous waters for him to be involved in.

Everything about this book is great. The death may be an accident or may be murder. If it is murder, the reason might be pedestrian or involve treason. Matthew's position and personal safety are in jeopardy, there are many different threads to the story and they may or may not be related and, on top of that, there are sufficient red herrings that the truth is not clear until the very end. On top of all of that you get the chance to learn more about Matthew's assistant, John Barack, and the people involved in his life. All in all, as much as I liked the first volume I felt that this one was far better.

Part of the enjoyment of this book is the chance to learn something about early sixteenth century life in England – how people lived, how they thought, the tension between those who were still Catholic and those who now believed in the Church Of England and, most horrifying of all, imprisonment in The Tower Of London and what passed for justice at the time.

This book is narrated by Steven Crossley who does as good a job as he did with the previous volumes. Individual characters are generally recognizable by their own accents and way of speaking and there is continuity of tone with the previous volumes. If you enjoyed Dissolution you should enjoy this even more.

9 of 9 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Eric C
  • forreston, IL, USA
  • 08-15-08

Excellent Historical Mystery

This is the second CJ Sansom I have read or listened to. (I read Dissolution because I abhore abridged and that's all Audible had of that title.) I really enjoyed the historical accuracy and setting - the author is a historian. Highly recommended if you like period mysteries. If you have to have a gun battle every five minutes, they are probably not your cup of tea.

6 of 6 people found this review helpful

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  • John
  • Glendale, AZ, United States
  • 04-27-12

WOW, another great novel from CJ Sansom

The installment takes place mostly during Henry VIII's great "passage" to York in which he went, with 3000 of his courtiers and soldiers, on a tour of Northern England to impress and cow the locals.

Sansom has done a superb job recreating this world. One of the best aspects for me is Sansom's ability to reconstruct how these people thought. It is hard for us, at this distance, to understand the role of religion and the monarchy in most people's lives in 1540. Sansom gives us not only the details of this world but an insight into the emotional and philosophical life of 1540.

Henry VIII appears briefly, memorably and frighteningly; Henry's fundamental smallness is conveyed with deft skill.

It's a great mystery that is different from the first two books. Unlike so many authors, Sansom does not simply re travel worn trails.

The book is not perfect; some characters do tend towards stereotype, but even then those characters ring essentially true.

Without revealing too much, there is an appalling visit to the Tower of London that will make you most glad to be alive today and not in 1540.

The narration is superb.

It's a great listen; you will not be disappointed.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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Ugly People in Tudor Times

This book, Sovereign, is the third volume in the Matthew Shardlake mystery series by C.J. Sansom. In this novel we get our primary, but short direct look at Henry the VIII. He is repulsive. This book makes our hero, Shardlake, a demon as well. We continue to learn that Shardlake, is insightful in putting facts together, but in his own right is at least in Dante’s ninth circle himself (violence). In all these tales there are no truly good people. All come with their own evil. If this is a true depiction of 16th Century man, than as a species we are getting better – some of us prefer virtue, at least some of us.

Nevertheless, the history of those Tudor era is endlessly enjoyable to learn about and the books do give you that. This mystery takes place during the Catherine Howard marriage. In this the third novel, the plot is more complex, realistic and engrossing. The books are getting better as we travel forward in Shardlake’s life.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • Wadie
  • Santa Ana, CA, United States
  • 05-29-09

Dark but enjoyable

Poor Matthew Shardlake! The new man in power is happy to do a favor for him and only wants a teeny little favor in return. This is a time when saying "no" would cost you your life! Excellent mystery!
Once again I came away with a new sense of the evil in the soul of Henry VIII. Also, this story brought out a slightly different view of another character, Richard III, former Duke of Gloucester. I enjoyed it very much!

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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My favorite so far

It amazes me how the author can weave history and fiction so well that it is hard to know where one stops and the other starts.

4 of 5 people found this review helpful

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Audiobook review

Steven Crossly turned in a fine performance reading this absorbing tale. The story starts out slowly, but picks up speed as the plot develops. I particularly appreciated Crossly's pacing, which keeps the story moving, but also allows the listener to absorb the myriad complex details which author C.J. Sansom embedded throughout the narrative.

Good historical fiction is hard to find - C.J. Sansom's well-researched novels help to fill a major void.

3 of 4 people found this review helpful

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It's good to be the king?

Excellent illustration of the vulnerability of anyone who isn’t the King of England. I felt the axe-grinding a bit more in this one with the question of Henry VIII’s legitimacy and treatment of his northern subjects. Those not willing to go quietly along with the new order are swept aside, imprisoned, tortured, executed and their lands and property seized. This makes for a mighty unquiet populace and a secret group of conspirators has been operating quietly, waiting for a chance to disprove Henry’s right to the throne and reestablish the legitimate line. Unfortunately, it looks as though they’ve missed their opportunity and their numbers are dwindling. This sets in motion a plot to find incriminating documents; to destroy or secure them is unclear, but of course many people have to die in the effort.

Basically this is what Shardlake and Barak get caught up in. Commissioned by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer, Matthew is attached to the King’s Progress to York. Ostensibly to pacify the rebellious northerners, but also to meet with the Scottish King and effect reconciliation, the Progress is really a big showcase of Henry’s right and might. Matthew’s first duty is to protect a political prisoner from an overzealous jailer who’s been known to “accidentally” kill prisoners awaiting torture in the Tower. This is easier said than done and of course shenanigans and poor-sportsmanship ensue.

There is more taunting of Matthew’s hunchbacked condition in this one and it pained me almost as much as it pained him. The biggest insult came directly from the King when he taunted Shardlake during a highly public ceremony. But to make up for it, Shardlake makes a great friend who becomes a surrogate father to him. Fellow lawyer Giles Wrenne is terminally ill and endears himself to Matthew and Barak so they will act as guide and nursemaid on a journey back to London to find his estranged nephew. All well and good, but as the relationship and story progress, hints and suspicion grow. Unfortunately only for me as a reader, not for Shardlake and Barak. Shardlake is too busy suspecting his old friend from the law college and Barak’s new girlfriend Tamesin.

2 of 3 people found this review helpful

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A intriguing page turner

Excellent descriptions of the era and full development of characters. The audible version was very well done and allows the reader to become immersed in that complicated and fascination time if England's history. Samson has the rare ability to portray even the most disputable characters with some pity and even humor.i think I am addicted to the series.

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Better and Better

The Matthew Shardlake stories get better as they go on. I liked "Dissolution" OK, and found "Dark Fire" to be better, but "Sovereign," the third in the series is better yet. I have gone on to finish all 6 of the books currently available, and I recommend the full set.

One of the great things about the Shardlake series is that C.J. Sansom not only placed the mysteries in an accurate historical millieu, but he found real characters and real stories that are almost footnotes to our history and turned them into a believable and interesting story. If you read the historical footnotes and also do some various research, you learn that some of the characters peripheral to the story (and even some who are a direct part of it) are genuine historical figures...the research that went into these books is amazing, and the writing is just compelling. Even if you took out the mystery part of the story, just the historical novel aspect is amazing. But the mysteries are also excellent...

...And Shardlake (along with Barak) is in the middle of it, along with a murder of a York glazier and several conspiracies afoot. In this case, the background of the story is Henry VIII's Royal Progress to the North of England in 1541 and a murder and conspiracy in York that drags Shardlake into the doings of the court and lands him in the worst trouble imaginable.

The narration is very good and fits just right in.