Sovereign is the third part in the Shardlake series of detective novels by C J Sansom and is my favourite to date. Matthew Shardlake is a London lawyer in Tudor times. With King Henry VIII on the throne, the risk of being beheaded or tortured in the Tower of London is never far away.
In the autumn of 1541, Henry VIII and his wife, Queen Catherine Howard, embark on the Progress – a journey to York, accompanied by hundreds of soldiers and staff, to try to calm the rebellious subjects of the North. In need of extra money, Shardlake and his assistant, Jack Barak, agree to travel to York themselves to assist in legal work. Shardlake also reluctantly takes on extra work for Archbishop Cranmer to ensure the welfare of a prisoner who is set to return to the Tower of London for interrogation.
But before the King even arrives in the city, Shardlake finds himself tangled up in the mysterious death of a glazier. When he and Barak stumble across some secret documents, Shardlake’s life is in danger and he has no idea who he can trust.
Along the way, Shardlake has a nasty encounter with the King himself, Barak finds himself a girlfriend and an old foe appears in York and seems set to make Shardlake’s life a misery.
This is a very long book, at over 650 pages, but I absolutely loved it. In many ways, it is no different from a modern day detective story, but with the addition of horses, very slow journeys and the threat of death in the Tower of London! I love reading about the sights and smells of the era, which feel very authentic, and I love the character of Barak and his colourful language. It seems that swearing hasn’t changed that much in the last 500 years.
Due to the sheer length of the book and the historical setting, Sovereign won’t be for everyone. But if you’re looking for something a bit different to read, I would definitely recommend it, and the whole of the Shardlake series. I now need to read book four.