Stephen's Reviews > Sovereign

Sovereign by C.J. Sansom
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's review
Aug 06, 2010

really liked it
bookshelves: ebooks, audiobook, mystery, historical-fiction, sherlockian, kings-and-queens, crime
Read from June 05 to 09, 2011 — I own a copy


Description the First:

Take Sherlock Holmes and...

1. Crook his back "Quasimodo" style (oh how I wanted to say “bend it like Beckham” instead, but I figure it's time we all move on from that one)...and make sure you include a nice hump;
2. Surgically remove 92.7% of the arrogant, ego-maniacal self love;
3. Replace Watson with a street-wise, well connected tough guy while deleting all hints of “bromantic tension” between the two;
4. Change the setting from Victorian England to the time of Henry VIII and the English Reformation where “Reformers” are engaged in a protracted struggle against the “Papist” supporters of the Roman Catholic Church;
5. Switch localized and small time crimes and mysteries to vast political conspiracies with subtle, nuanced clues and a host of “grey” characters struggling against the wider canvas of the Reformation;
6. Takeaway dumb, dorky stumbling blocks like Inspector “Idiot savant minus the savant” Lestrade and replace with rich, smart, capable, politically connected MEGAbastards with almost unlimited resources to cause mischief;
7. Add (and my apologies for Sir Arthur for this) superbly crafted plots, rich, nuanced characterizations and deeply immersive historical settings; and...


Description the Second:

Take Sherlock Holmes and...

First... beat him about the neck and chest with a burlap sack containing the full weight of his enormous ego until hot tears flow and he screams for Watson to bring him some cocaine and apologizes for being such arrogasshat pricktardo (it’s foreign but I think you can translate).
Second... tell Watson to grow a pair, send Sir Author to a writer’s workshop and finish Lestrade’s lobotomy Ninja style. Then...


4.0 to 4.5 stars. Okay, okay, that was a bit much and the Holmes stories are actually quite good. However, I find the Matthew Shardlake series and the writing of C.J. Sansom to be substantially better. These are true blue historical mysteries that pull you completely into the time of the story (in this case 1541).

Sovereign is the 3rd book in the series (there are currently five) and follows after Dissolution and Dark Fire. In this one, King Henry VIII is traveling to York on the famous “Progress to the North” to accept the submission of “papist” rebels and grant pardons for those involved. Master Shardlake, an attorney, is sent ahead to York to assist with processing petitions to the King. At least that is his public reason for being there. Privately, he has been requested by Archbishop Cranmer to ensure the welfare of a dangerous conspirator and bring him safely from York to he can be properly tortured in the Tower of London.

Well, a murder occurring shortly after Matthew’s arrival points to a vast conspiracy that could lead to disaster for the King and his family. I will leave it there and just say that the intertwining plots and subplots are very well done and engrossing. This is easily my favorite historical mystery series and among my favorite mystery series period.

So why not 5 stars? Okay, here is my only gripe. The first book in the series was Dissolution and it was 320 pages long....AND NON STOP AWESOME FROM BEGINNING TO END!! Now, the last two books, Dark Fire and this have been almost TWICE as long. Now, the mysteries and conspiracies have gotten bigger and so some additional length is certainly welcomed. However, I still think that each of the last two stories are about 100 pages too long and so there are few parts that drag.

Thus, I can’t quite give it 5 stars. However, that is really a fairly minor quibble and some may even appreciate the stretching out of the narrative. Regardless, this is a superior series and the writing and plotting are top drawer and will make you see 16th century England when you close your eyes. Finally, Matthew Shardlake is an amazing character and acts as the perfect guide through these stories. Honorable, brilliant, determined, practical and very efficient. A GOOD MAN!!

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Comments (showing 1-19 of 19) (19 new)

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message 1: by Lea (new)

Lea "arrogasshat pricktardo (it’s foreign but I think you can translate)"

I am totally stealing this . . .

Stephen Lea wrote: ""arrogasshat pricktardo (it’s foreign but I think you can translate)"

I am totally stealing this . . ."

I am honored. Thanks, Lea.

Zulfiya Inventive, convincing, and brilliant!

Stephen Zulfiya wrote: "Inventive, convincing, and brilliant!"

Thank you, Zulfiya.

Shelly I love this review!!!

Stephen Thank you, Shelly. That is nice of you to say. This is a terrific series.

message 7: by Richard (new)

Richard Derus arrogasshat pricktardo


I love you even more now.

Stephen I was hoping you'd like that. This is a wonderful series and I think you will enjoy this. Matt Shardlake is a difficult guy not to like.

Lance Greenfield I love the way that you've put this review together, Stephen. It is certainly a different approach.

Perhaps you would enjoy my review of Dog Tails: Three Humorous Short Stories for Dog Lovers. Well, to be honest, my dog wrote it!

Stephen Thanks, Lance, and thank you for the link. Very funny, review. Your pooch is quite an excellent writer.

message 11: by Bill (new)

Bill You had me with arrogasshat pricktardo.

Stephen Bill wrote: "You had me with arrogasshat pricktardo."

Thanks, Bill. It just seemed appropriate at the time.

message 13: by Mark (new)

Mark you are the fourth person in as many days to 'bring these books to my attention'. Maybe this little papist should go to market and buy some

Stephen Mark wrote: "you are the fourth person in as many days to 'bring these books to my attention'. Maybe this little papist should go to market and buy some"

Make sure you begin with Dissolution, the first book in the series. It is a wonderful series and each book is among the best historical mysteries I have read.

Lance Greenfield Stephen wrote: "Mark wrote: "you are the fourth person in as many days to 'bring these books to my attention'. Maybe this little papist should go to market and buy some"

Make sure you begin with [book:Dissoluti..."

Mark - Stephen is definitely right. This is one of those series which MUST be read in the correct order to get the best out of them.

message 16: by Mark (new)

Mark thanks Stephen and Lance. I shall sally forth in the New Year

Stephen I hope you enjoy these as much as I do, Mark. I suspect you will.

Mary Ann Marvelously witty review. I just started Revelation.

Martin Irwin I found Dissolution and Dark fire both slow moving, however, I did enjoy them and am now on sovereign... I'm hoping it's as good as the previous two...

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