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Summary

The second Shardlake novel in C. J. Sansom's remarkable historical crime series.

It is 1540 and the hottest summer of the 16th century. Matthew Shardlake, believing himself out of favour with Thomas Cromwell, is busy trying to maintain his legal practice and keep a low profile. But his involvement with a murder case, defending a girl accused of brutally murdering her young cousin, brings him once again into contact with the king's chief minister - and a new assignment . . .

The secret of Greek Fire, the legendary substance with which the Byzantines destroyed the Arab navies, has been lost for centuries. Now an official of the Court of Augmentations has discovered the formula in the library of a dissolved London monastery. When Shardlake is sent to recover it, he finds the official and his alchemist brother brutally murdered - the formula has disappeared. Now Shardlake must follow the trail of Greek Fire across Tudor London, while trying at the same time to prove his young client's innocence. But very soon he discovers nothing is as it seems . . .

©2004 C. J. Sansom (P)2014 Pan Macmillan Publishers Ltd.

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  • 22-02-18

Excellent Story

I have dementia which means it’s hard to follow a story.

This was well written but more importantly well read. It’s the reading that helps me to engage and understand.

Thank I love Matthew Shardlake and look forward to listening to the next book.

30 people found this helpful

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Even Better Than The Last!

What did you like most about Dark Fire?

I enjoyed getting together with characters who were already old friends and...enemies! I also enjoyed meeting new ones! These books go at exactly the right pace and so feel comfortable, yet certainly not dull!

Who was your favorite character and why?

Matthew Shardlake is definitely my favourite character.

Have you listened to any of Steven Crossley’s other performances? How does this one compare?

I listened to the first book which was excellent. Try listening to them in order.

Did you have an emotional reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

I laughed, worried and loved.

Any additional comments?

I enjoy listening to such well written & well read novels. I wish I had longer in the day when I am listening to one of these.

8 people found this helpful

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Engrossing

Following on from listening to Dissolution I was keen to listen to book 2.

I enjoyed this more than the first, it was 'darker' in places which added to the suspense..We were introduced to Barack a rather shady character who on the surface is rather unpleasant but his character was revealed during the course of the story.

The storyline is full of plotting, scheming and even Shardlake has his manipulative side which adds authenticity to his character.

The narration was again well done and it is pleasing to have the same voice in a series; you relate better to the characters I always think when there is consistency.

5 people found this helpful

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Another good Shardlake story

The Shardlake series is a well-constructed set of stories. The plots are well put together, the characters are credible and the dialogue is set in the historical context without being pretentious. Well narrated by Stephen Crossley. Very enjoyable.

3 people found this helpful

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Great story. Brilliantly narrated.

I really enjoyed this audio book. The characters were believable and the story well put together. I learnt some history along the way as well.

3 people found this helpful

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Thoroughly Enjoyable

Excellent story and evocation of tudor London. The narration is excellent and brings to live the book. Historical facts and cleverly interwoven with a fictional story that lends credence to the overall storyline.
Thoroughly enjoyable!!!

1 person found this helpful

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I'm amazed by C. J. Sansom

We are three years after the events in Dissolution. Matthew Shardlake leads a simple life, works in his office as a lawyer and seems like he fell out of the grace of Lord Cromwell. Which, he doesn’t really mind much as he had enough of danger. In fact, he contemplates of returning to the countryside soon.

One day, one of his old aquintances seek his help as his niece, Elizabeth Wentworth is charged by the murder of her cousin, Ralph Wentworth, who was the only son of a wealthy merchant. Elizabeth’s parents died earlier and she went to live with his uncle’s family, who didn’t treat her well. The only one who stands beside her is her other uncle, Joseph, who is sure she didn’t have anything to do with the boy’s death. But Matthew’s position is not an easy one as Elizabeth refuses to speak and plead either guily or not guilty, which just strengthens people’s believe that she was the culprit. The case is pretty much lost when a man, Jack Barack steps in to pressure the judge to give another hearing before the final decision. And so Matthew wins another 12 days to solve the mystery, but it comes with a price.

He finds himself once again employed by Cromwell, who tries to save his position and the king’s marriage with Anne Cleve by presenting him a substance called Dark Fire which can be a powerful weapon if they can find out how to produce more. Matthew has exactly 12 days to find the formula and the substance so they could be presented to the king. His investigation, however is paved with blood, death bodies and an intrigue which reaches the highest circles.

In this book we get a plethora of new characters introduced starting with Jack Barak, a servant to Lord Cromwell. He is brash, brave and doesn’t have much filters – he says what he thinks and owns a healthy dose of sarcasm. I always liked him and I think his character works even better in English. His relationship with Matthew is quite rocky, especially at the beginning. Matthew doesn’t approve of Jack’s attitude and unrefined manner while Jack doesn’t trust Matthew and thinks he is just as entitled as gossipy as all the other lawyers. But as they work together, they learn to respect each other and reflect on themselves.

Another important character in this story is the widowed Lady Honor who likes to held dinner parties and entertain herself by inviting guest with different views to listen to their debate. At this time in Henry WIII’s reign, tension doesn’t seem to go down as both catholics and reformants try to overpower the other side. And then there are fractions dividing the reformants and one has to be really careful about their beliefs and words. Lady Honor is a strongwilled woman whose family once been prestigious and her primary goal is to earn the family honour once again. All her decisions and acts are focused on that one goal, which makes her a bit narrow minded and though she is very friendly with Matthew I still can’t like her.

On the other side, there is Elizabeth who refuses to help herself and decides she deserves punishment because God turned away from her. The previously very religious girl loses her faith and decides death is still better than living like this. And her family takes advantage of that. But that doesn’t stop Matthew and Jack to find out the truth. And make powerful enemies along the way.

What I like about this series is that the mystery keeps me at the edge of my seat. I read the books long ago enough that I don’t remember the details anymore (I did remember one major thing though, but that didn’t spoil it for me) so it’s almost like I read it for the first time. C. J. Sansom is definitely a master storyteller who keeps you guessing until everything is revealed. Seeing a plot twist coming halfway through a book can be fun as it keeps you wondering whether you were right (I usually am), but what really thrills me if a book keeps me guessing. And all the while it doesn’t lose my interest. Dark Fire has everything which makes it a masterwork: intrigue, murder mystery, compelling and unconventional characters (Matthew Shardlake is a hunchback for instance, oh and there is a black apothecary, Guy who used to be a monk), and richly detailed world. I’m still amazed how Sansom managed to bring back the 16th century London with all its characteristics and details. It feels like I could walk on the filthy, smelly streets right beside Jack and Matthew, feeling the fear and uncertainty in the air which threatens the fragile peace as the religious wars brew under the surface as well as in the highest ranks of the kingdom.

If you love historical fiction or the Tudor era, or both, I highly recommend this series. You can read each book as a stand alone, though I still recommend reading in order because Matthew Shardlake goes through some great changes regarding his belief and views and that’s fascinating to watch, how he processes things as he grews older (he is 40 in Dark Fire) and as he witnesses the historical events we know from History books.

1 person found this helpful

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Cromwell’s secret weapon…

It is 1540, and lawyer Matthew Shardlake has taken on the case of a girl who has been charged with the murder of her young cousin. The girl, Elizabeth, is refusing to speak, partly from shock perhaps, but she also seems to be full of rage. If she won’t plead she knows she will be subjected to torture, but still she keeps her silence. At the last moment, Shardlake finds that she is to be given a temporary reprieve – twelve days more in the Hole at Newgate prison before the torture begins, unless Shardlake can get to the truth of what happened before then. But then Shardlake learns that the reprieve has been the work of the King’s vicar general, Thomas Cromwell. And in return, Cromwell wants Shardlake to do a job for him – one that may save Cromwell from the King’s growing displeasure…

The two cases in this story are completely separate and quite different from each other, providing the kind of contrast that always makes the Shardlake books so enjoyable. While the Cromwell strand takes us deep into the machinations of the powerful men vying for the King’s favour, Elizabeth’s story is far away from politics, set in her merchant uncle’s home. This allows Sansom to roam widely through the streets of London, and the various types and classes of people who populate them.

Cromwell provides Shardlake with a new assistant, a tough young commoner by the name of Jack Barak who was once helped by Cromwell and now feels a great loyalty to him. Shardlake’s feelings are more mixed – he has been appalled by some of the things Cromwell has done in the name of Reform, including torturing and burning heretics, and is no longer as enthusiastic a Reformer as he once was. However, when Cromwell demands service a man has to be very brave or very foolish to refuse, and Shardlake is neither, plus he knows it’s the only way to gain time to investigate Elizabeth’s case.

Cromwell has been told that the formula for an ancient weapon once used by the Byzantines, known as “dark fire”, has been rediscovered. Having told King Henry, he has now discovered that the men who promised to supply it to him have been murdered. Cromwell is already on extremely shaky ground with the King since it was he who arranged the marriage to Anne of Cleves, which turned out to be a disaster, and he knows that if he fails to provide the promised new weapon the King will be even more furious. Now the King has set his amorous sights on young Catherine Howard and Cromwell fears that, if she becomes Queen, then her uncle, the Duke of Norfolk, will take Cromwell’s place as the second most important man in the land. So he tasks Shardlake with finding the murderers and, more importantly, with finding either the supply of dark fire he has been promised or at least the formula for it.

Elizabeth had been recently orphaned and sent to live in her Uncle Edwin’s family. She never fitted in with her cousins, two girls and a boy, all of whom seemed to enjoy teasing her about her less refined manners. But when she is accused of having killed the boy by throwing him down the well, her other uncle, Joseph, refuses to believe her guilty. It is he who begs Shardlake to take her case, and as Shardlake and Barak investigate, they will find that there are dark secrets in this family – dark and dangerous.

Both stories are very well told, and Sansom keeps the balance between them well, never losing sight of either for too long. Although Barak’s job is to help Shardlake with the dark fire investigation, he is happy to help with Elizabeth's case too, especially since in some ways she reminds him of himself when he too found himself in trouble at a young age. Despite having little in common, the rough commoner Barak and the cultured lawyer Shardlake gradually begin to find a mutual respect for each other, and even the beginnings of friendship.

As always, the historical setting feels completely authentic, both in terms of the high events surrounding the King and court, and in the depiction of how people lived and worked at this period. Sansom gives an amazing amount of detail about all sorts of things, from the dinner-tables of the high and mighty to the inns and brothels of the poorer parts of the city, and manages to do this seamlessly as part of the story so that it never feels like an info dump. It becomes an immersive experience, and I always feel a sense of dislocation when I return to the modern world. Both plots in this one are interesting, although I found myself more involved in the more personal one of Elizabeth and her family than in Cromwell and his political shenanigans. Brother Guy from the first book is now in London working as an apothecary. He and Matthew have become firm friends and he plays an important role in this book, which is an added bonus for me since he’s one of my favourite characters.

I listened to the audiobook this time, which is wonderfully narrated by Steven Crossley. I will admit his voice for Barak didn’t chime with my own idea of how he should sound at first but I soon got used to it. His Shardlake is perfect, though, and he uses a huge variety of tones and accents for the other people in what is a pretty vast cast of characters. It makes such a difference to ease of listening when each character is so clearly differentiated, especially in such a long book.

So, an excellent second outing for Shardlake and, in common with all the books in this series, gets my highest recommendation.

1 person found this helpful

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Great book, great narration

Loved it! Great book, exciting and well narrated. I definitely recommend all these books

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EXCELLENT

This is an excellent story well written C.J. Sansom. I've read the book but the characters are brought to life and I'll definitely download more in the Shardlake series. Highly recommended