Saturday, December 10, 2011

"Heartstone".. a review

I've read one or two of Sansom's books and have never been disappointed - they invariably veer on the large side* and this book was no exception weighing in at 600+ pages....  (slightly amusingly, this was in the local library's borrow it for a week section - no chance!!)

So what do you get in your 600+ pages??  A story set in the summer of 1545, where England is threatened with invasion by the French (when are we not!).

Henry VIII's invasion of France to try and imitate his antecedents, has gone badly wrong, and a massive French fleet is preparing to sail across the Channel.

Conscription has been called, the currency has been debased to try and pay the massive costs of the war, and seemingly the whole of England is on a war footing.

In Portsmouth the royal fleet has gathered but is hideously outnumbered by the French.

Against this background Matthew Shardlake, a lawyer, is given a legal case by an old servant of Queen, Catherine Parr. He is tasked with investigating claims of 'monstrous wrongs' committed against a young ward of the court resident just north of Portsmouth.

Shardlake and his assistant Barak journey to Portsmouth to try and discover what the secret is, and at the same time try to find out why one of Shardlake's acquaintances is incarcerated at Bedlam...

The background detail is fantastic -  at one point Shardlake goes aboard the Mary Rose - there is a clever plot twist, but it's not a frenetic book and I can't help thinking it would have been better for being a bit shorter....

Worth reading for the history - I had little or no knowledge of this period of my country's military history - not a bad story..  Steve the Wargamer rates this one six out of ten...

* as an aside what is it about the 21st Century that we focus so greatly on "large", "extra large", "go large"? There was a time when I was younger (oh no I hear you say... another Daily Mail diatribe about how things were better in the "old days") when coffee came in small mugs, music albums lasted no more than 45 minutes (two albums, or a double album, on one C90 tape cassette) and burgers (served only by Wimpy) were single slices of nothingness with no sign of extra cheese/bacon/sausage/vegetable matter/salad or anything else...  at about the same time if you picked up a thriller they would invariably be 250-300 pages.....  at some point in between someone said "more is good" and all of the previous examples have gained size/quantity, but not necessarily the quality to go with it (Wimpy excepted - they never had quality in the first place...


  1. An excellent book, I read it a couple of months ago, I never guessed the ending, I love a book where I don't realise what's gonna happen. I waited for the paperback, that was bulky enough, I wouldn't have fancied holding the hardback!!!

  2. a book for the kindle me thinks!
    The go large element comes from the states and the increasing Americanisation of the world.

  3. Steve

    I've read of couple of his other books and fund them to be good reads and interesting history. If you want to experience more of the history I'd recommend the Mary Rose exhibit in Portsmouth (plus there's the Victory and Warrior to check out). See if you can go without being tempted with a new period or three.

    I'm not sure where Papillon is based exactly, but if you can motor to the Nab you should be able to drive to Portsea!

    And yes, I'm a Canuck giving tourist info to a Brit on his own country. But I was born in Northampton, and my dad lives on the Hamble. I spent my teenage summers pottering about hampshire by land and sea.


  4. Cheers PD - I'm from Portsmouth and currently live 15 minutes away... :o))

    I have to say although I've visited Warrior and Victory a host of times I've never been to see "HMS Driftwood" (as they call her round here!). Reading the book has made me want to remedy that - I hear that Mary Rose is currently closed to visitors but that they are opening a new museum next year which should give the best views of the ship probably since she first sank.. looking forward to it...

    Full story here:

  5. Not everything has increased with age I regret to say =)