Author: C. J. Sansom
Publisher: Pan Publishing
Publication Date: September 2011
Summer, 1545. England is at war. Henry VIII’s invasion of France has gone badly wrong, and a massive French fleet is preparing to sail across the Channel. As the English fleet gathers at Portsmouth, the country raises the largest militia army it has ever seen. The King has debased the currency to pay for the war.
Review: Forgive me C. J. Sansom for I have sinned against you; I doubted you and your ability to create a gripping and shocking story full of twists and turns and to intertwine all of the strands of this story into a neatly formed bow. Usually I don’t like admitting when I am wrong but, in this instance, I happily hold my hands in the air and fall on bended knee to ask for your forgiveness.
Ever since I picked up Dissolution I have been a huge fan of C. J. Sansom and the wonderful Matthew Shardlake. I have always been drawn to Tudor history and this time frame coupled with the mystery genre had me hooked instantly. Heartstone is the fifth series in the book and it is by far the best. My followers may already know that I am completely guided by my imagination and feelings when I am reading a book, if it sends me on an emotional roller coaster and leaves me physically and mentally exhausted at the end of it, then it is instantly a firm favourite; Heartstone did that and so much more.
This instalment saw Matthew travelling to Southern England to deal with a wardship matter that was personally endorsed by Catherine Parr, the Queen of England in 1545. As ever, Barak is by his side but so is his adversary Vincent Dyrick who tries everything in his power to prove that his clients, the Hoyland family, are treating the ward concerned, Hugh, with nothing but care and respect. Naturally C. J. Sansom isn’t happy with just one plot line and continues to delve into the story of Ellen, a young woman who the reader meets in the last book, Revelation, as well as keeping his trademark historically factual subplot which sees the French attempting to invade England. This subplot also sees the return of George Leacon, a soldier from York who was featured in the book Sovereign, who I was happy to see due to him being one of my favourite supporting characters.
As I stated at the beginning, I doubted the story because I couldn’t see how it could all possibly work out. At the 76% point of the book I was getting increasingly annoyed at Matthew’s unwillingness to drop the cases before him, a trait I used to admire him for, because there was no evidence to support Hugh being unfairly treated in anyway or of Ellen’s attackers, however, I was wrong, so very wrong. The speed in which everything changed took my breath away; the cases came to the best conclusions, the shocking revelation of the Hoyland family and Ellen’s mysterious past made my head spin and left me completely speechless. They were by far the best climatic points of all the books in the series so far but, there was only one element that topped it and that is only because it left me heartbroken.
Note: I will warn you that I am about to reveal the death of a character in the book; if you do not wish to know as you want to read the book then thank you so much for reading this review but please stop here because I do not want to take anything away from your reading experience. However, if you’re happy to read on then please do.
C. J. Sansom is a master at entwining fiction and fact together and, in this book, he looks at the sinking of the Mary Rose which took place in July 1545. Our protagonist Matthew is on the Mary Rose itself, due to certain factors that I cannot reveal, as is George Leacon and his soldiers who I have come to know and love throughout this book. Each man has his story, each man has a plan for when he leaves the King’s army including Leacon who just wanted to live a peaceful life after the atrocities he saw during his time fighting in France. On board the Mary Rose, C. J doesn’t just make you visualise the feelings of those on board, he makes you feel and live them. As the ship is going down, Leacon’s men are dragged under the water, screaming, terrified and weighed down by their armour. This was a devastating blow for me, I am still crushed writing this review, but it really opened my eyes to how overwhelmingly terrifying this situation was and still is today for those who are involved in conflict. For the remainder of the book I was simply waiting, waiting for Leacon or one of his men to be one of the 35 survivors of the wreck that had a crew of 400 but none of them survived, not even Leacon himself. This hit me so hard because I felt their hopes and dreams, I shared in their laughter, their sadness and fears and felt I had lost friends.
Heartstone is a work of pure genius and it wholly deserves its five star rating. It broke my heart, took me through every emotion possible and left me exhausted as every good book should. Once the story had finished, I had to simply close the book and have a few moments of silence to absorb my experience and to ensure that my thoughts were coherent enough to write a review that was worthy enough of such a book; I hope I have done it justice.