‘Dark Fire’ is the 2nd novel in C.J. Sansom’s Matthew Shardlake series, set in Tudor England.
Shardlake has been approached by a friend to save his niece from a murder charge. The orphaned Elizabeth Wentworth is accused of murdering her young cousin Ralph. But Elizabeth refuses to speak and the penalty for not pleading is pressing – her body will be placed under an increasing weight of rocks until she pleads or dies. Just when Shardlake thinks that all is lost, there is a surprise two week reprieve in which he can try to find the real murderer.
Thomas Cromwell has organised the reprieve because he wants Shardlake’s services immediately. During the clearing of the monasteries, the formula and a sample of Greek Fire (or Dark Fire) were discovered. The formula was held in such secrecy by the Byzantines that it was thought to be lost forever. The man who rediscovered it was offering to sell it to King Henry VIII but he has now been murdered and the formula has gone missing again.
Cromwell needs Greek Fire to redeem himself with the King after arranging the disastrous marriage with Anne of Cleaves. He has assigned his loyal young assistant Jack Barak to help Shardlake.
Shardlake has only two weeks to find Ralph Wentworth’s murderer and to find the formula for Greek Fire.
What follows is a rough and tumble dash back and forth through the streets of London with the hunchback Shardlake relying on his brains while Barak provides the muscle and deals with most of the rough stuff. And they make a remarkable pair.
This novel was made special by the wonderful characters and the amazingly realistic setting that C.J. Sansom created.
Shardlake is a clever but very human character. He falls in love with the wrong people and makes friends with those on the fringes of acceptable society. He riles against injustice but it takes the real street experience of Barak to show him what he has missed. As a hunchback, Shardlake feels he can’t be fully accepted but he is more beautiful on the inside than most.
My favourite character in this novel was Guy, an ex-monk who is now an apothecary, a dark skinned man from Grenada in a white non-catholic world.
I have a copy of the next novel in the series – ‘Sovereign’ on my book shelf and can’t wait to read it.
Book Published 2004