C J Sansom – Dark Fire Review
I finished Dark Fire by C J Sansom last night. You may recall from my review of Dissolution that whilst I wasn’t head over heels in love with his first book, I could tell there was potential for a cracking read so I wanted to read on. And Dark Fire comes an awful lot closer to that expectation. I wouldn’t say that it meets it 100%, but for me it was certainly a much better read than Dissolution.
I think the thing with Dissolution was that it was probably 80% monastery based – all the action taking place in that one enclosed set of buildings. You didn’t get much of a feel for the age in which the book was set. Dark Fire is 100% set in London, and that gives the story a whole lot more scope for experiencing an entire range of historic 16th century delights. Because of the nature of the story where Shardlake has to take on several investigations at once (and the time limit that is put upon him,) you are constantly flitting from place to place – sometimes several places just in one chapter. This could be seen as risky – it could disorientate the reader and to be fair you have to pay attention otherwise you might forget where he’s been and when he went there. But for me it worked well – you went from the stinking disgustingness of Newgate prison to the sweet poshness of the aristocratic Lady Honor’s House of Glass within a matter of pages. You experienced the whole spectrum of life at the time – something which I was crying out for with Dissolution.
In terms of story, I have to admit it kept me guessing a lot more than Dissolution. I got a part of it right, but to be honest the main part of the story was so complex with so many suspects all swearing innocence that it got difficult to pin them down. This again could be part to do with the fact that the story was moving about all over the place – there wasn’t much time to get fully aquainted with all the characters, which I think could be a bit of a flaw. And in the end I have to admit that I wasn’t 100% happy with the outcome – particularly because it seemed that it was all for nothing, that for all their discoveries it didn’t really matter in the end anyway. The fact that the main overall culprit was a real famous historical figure meant that you knew as soon as they stepped into the room that they weren’t going to get caught, which again was a bit dissapointing. Another minor niggle I have is that like Dissolution we don’t actually see any justice being served. No gory executions – which pesonally I would have quite liked to see. All those involved either got killed before the story was finished or they just died in prison – and one you don’t even hear what his fate was. Sansom teases us with mentionings of hangings and burnings and drawing and quarterings, but you never actually witness them through his eyes, which is to me a shame as again it’s one of those things that is typical of that time period – it would be nice to experience it to get the whole effect. I felt sure we would at least witness Cromwell getting his head hacked off, but that is just a passing note at the end of the book. Still never mind.
I did love some bits however. I loved the introduction of bananas to the upper class diners – that was great fun. There were some great action sequences that genuinely got your heart beating faster and your eyes reading quicker. Toky and Wright made excellent villains, and you felt as though you might be being watched by them too as you read through the story. I did enjoy the character of Lady Honor, but then her ending was really quite dissapointing and I was just left thinking she was a bitch after all. Oh and also the “Giants” bone in the pub – that was a nice touch too.
Overall then, I did enjoy it a lot more than Dissolution (for all my moaning) – although there is (as always) – still more room for improvement. Next stop: Sovereign.