SOVEREIGN is the 3rd novel in C.J. Sansom’s Matthew Shardlake series which features the hunchback lawyer in the time of King Henry VIII.
With the death of Thomas Cromwell, Shardlake and his assistant Jack Barak had hoped that their days working for the court were over. But now Archbishop Cranmer has sent them on another mission. The King has undertaken a progress to York, visiting many other towns along the way. Shardlake is to await the progress in York where he will help processing petitions to the King. But he also has a secret assignment. A traitor – Sir Edward Broderick is being held in York and is to be transported to London for questioning in the tower. Shardlake is to ensure that he arrives in reasonable health.
But the whole of York is seething with resentment towards King Henry and Broderick is far from the only traitor in the North. Shortly after their arrival, Shardlake witnesses the death of a Glazier whose final words indicate a possible plot against the King. Shardlake is forced to work with Maleverer, an unpleasant man who is in league with Shardlake’s enemy Richard Rich. But even with Maleverer’s guards investigating, it is Shardlake who finds a box of secret documents, only to have them stolen again.
From this point, there are several attempts on Shardlake’s life. He is also fighting to keep his reputation and avoid being accused of plotting against the King himself. The trusty Barak is less help to him than usual as he has fallen in love with a maid of the Queen’s household, Tamasin. So Shardlake turns to fellow lawyer Giles Wrenn.
The young Queen Catherine Howard is portrayed as a flighty young girl, only too willing to spend time with the dashing young men of the court, Culpepper and Dereham. While King Henry is portrayed as a gross and revolting man, certainly well past his prime.
It isn’t till their return to London that Shardlake finally gets to the bottom of what has been going on.
This was the best novel of the series so far. The characters, a mixture of real and fictional were excellent. King Henry was brought to life so well by Sansom that I could almost smell him. The plot was very complex but kept me reading well into the night – for several nights.
If you love history, then this is an excellent series. I’m looking forward to reading the next novel – REVELATION.