Sansom’s second novel in the Sharklade series is as enthralling and well written as his first. This series of historical novels will surely become a classic in the years to come on the same scale as Ken Follet’s Pillers of the Earth. The fact that hasn’t be adapted for the screen yet is clearly an oversight as each of the two books I’ve read so far would make absorbing viewing as 2 separate series. Perfect for a Sunday evening as long as they don’t clash with Downton obviously!
Dark Fire is set during the fall of Thomas Cromwell in 1540 and a couple of years after the events of Dissolution which the reader has to have read to understand a number of references which pepper in the opening chapters. The historical elements are expertly woven into the fabric of the book and provide a solid background to the fictional events of the novel without obscuring them.
My only criticism of the book, which I consumed in a matter of days, is the character of Lady Honor. Although clearly based on Bess of Hardwick, the scope of Lady Honor’s independence and the open debates about religion around her table are a little too farfetched even in this most liberal period of the reformation. It has to be remembered that the creation of the Church of England in the 1530s was only slightly removed from Catholicism compared to the stoic Presbyterianism of the Interregnum 100 years later. Open debates about doctrine and belief were dangerous and too dangerous for the majority of society both high and low born. In addition, the character assumes a place of importance in the novel out of all proportion to her actual involvement in the central mystery. Lady Honor is, if anything, a distraction.
My expectations on beginning this novel were high after my enjoyment of the first and I certainly wasn’t disappointed. I look forward to the third.