Book Review – ‘Tombland’ by C.J. Sansom


C.J. Sansom 'Tombland'

Spring, 1549. Two years after the death of Henry VIII, England is sliding into chaos… The nominal king, Edward VI, is eleven years old. His uncle Edward Seymour, Lord Hertford, rules as Protector, presiding over a collapsing economy, a draining, prolonged war with Scotland and growing discontent amongst the populace as the old religion is systematically wiped out by radical Protestants. Matthew Shardlake, meanwhile, is a lawyer in the employ of Lady Elizabeth, the old King’s younger daughter. The gruesome murder of Elizabeth’s distant relative Edith Boleyn soon takes him and his assistant Nicholas Overton to Norwich where he is reunited with Overton’s predecessor Jack Barak. As another murder drags the trio into ever-more dangerous waters, Shardlake finds his loyalties tested as Barak throws in his lot with the exploding peasant rebellion and Overton finds himself prisoner in Norwich castle. Simultaneously, Shardlake discovers that the murder of Boleyn may have connections reaching into both the heart of the rebel camp and of the Norfolk gentry… [Description from Waterstones]

I really enjoyed this book, although the sheer length and weight of it put me off carrying it around in my bag as I normally would! I don’t think it is the best of the Shardlake books, but the characters carry it off, especially the interplay between Shardlake, Barak and Overton, and I also really liked Robert Kett as a character, though I didn’t really expect to, but I’m not entirely sure why, perhaps because of the way the rebellion has been portrayed from the viewpoint of the victors.

I love Matthew Shardlake and Jack Barak as characters, I always have, but in this one I also really liked Nicholas, which I didn’t in the previous book. The interplay between the three was fascinating as they traded views on the rebels, and on the Boleyn murder as well.

I was really intrigued by the murder of John Boleyn’s wife and the involvement of the Lady Elizabeth, although of course this is a fictional case. It’s clever the way that the murder case was intertwined with the Kett rebellion, and how they kept investigating the murder even while dealing with a rebellion and a war essentially. The fear and hope of this time comes across clearly, and you can feel the rising hope and then crushing disappointment of the rebels as their demands are rejected. It really adds a human touch to what is usually just reported in numbers.

It was also interesting to see the Kett rebellion from the point of view of the rebels, as the historical record largely looks at it from the victorious point of view of the royal forces. From a 21st century point of view what the rebels were asking for is what we would consider basic human rights now, but which had to be fought for in the 16th century, and I think these rebels came close to succeeding, had it not been for other rebellions over the religious settlement elsewhere in England. The author essay at the end of the novel adds some historical context to the events of the story, and clearly explains what is fact and what is fiction.

I will keep reading this series just because of the characters, because they are so well-rounded and there is always something that you can connect with, with at least one of the characters, and frankly I just love it!

Also published on my sister blog https://bookbloggerish.wordpress.com/

Author: Helene Harrison

I have an MA in History, with a thesis entitled 'The Many Faces of Anne Boleyn: Perceptions in History, Literature and Film'. I have an interest in the Tudors and the Wars of the Roses along with my love of reading and literature.

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