Heartstone (Matthew Shardlake 5) by CJ Sansom

Who guards the guardians?

😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

When Queen Catherine Parr’s old servant comes to her with a legal problem, the Queen naturally turns to her old friend, Matthew Shardlake. The servant’s son had been tutor to two children until their parents died in one of the waves of sweating sickness that swept the country. The children, Hugh and Emma, had been given into the guardianship of an old family friend, Master Hobbey. Unfortunately smallpox ravaged the Hobbey family shortly after, killing Emma and leaving Hugh badly scarred. Some years later the tutor had visited Hugh, and had become outraged by something he saw as a monstrous wrong. He had placed a complaint with the Court of Wards, but before he could explain his concerns, he was found hanged. The verdict was suicide, but his mother finds that hard to believe. The Queen wishes Matthew to take up the case, with a view to finding out what it was that had so horrified the tutor, and to ensuring the well-being of Hugh. This will involve Matthew in making a trip to Master Hobbey’s home, Hoyland Priory, not far from Portsmouth, where the English army and fleet are massing to defend the country from an expected invasion by France.

Meantime, the story of Ellen Fettiplace continues from the previous novel. She is a woman Matthew met when he was dealing with a case that involved him visiting Bedlam, the lunatic asylum, where Ellen has been incarcerated for nineteen years. She has come to depend on Matthew, and he fears she has fallen in love with him. There is a mystery as to why she is in Bedlam and, since she came from a village in the same area as Hoyland Priory, Matthew decides to investigate while he’s there.

Book 2 of 20

The Shardlake books are so monumental in size and complexity that frankly it’s very hard to summarise what they’re about. The plots are always interesting and there are always several strands going on simultaneously, and at the same time Sansom fills in the historical background, gives a good deal of social history, and doesn’t forget to keep us up to date with the lives of all the regular characters. Here, we see the outcome of Henry VIII’s hubris in warring with France. Men are being conscripted into the army, huge warships are being built, vast expenditure on military preparations is causing high taxes on the wealthy and a devaluation in the coinage which is further impoverishing the poor; and in general England is suffering for Henry’s ego.

In Portsmouth, Henry’s favourite ship, the Mary Rose, has been refitted in preparation for the coming battle, and she plays her part in the plot too. Sansom manages to impart a ton of historical information interestingly, so we learn all about the ship and what it would have been like to serve aboard her, and we see how she fares when the battle commences. Shardlake and Barak travel south with a company of archers heading for Portsmouth, so we also learn about this aspect of warfare. And of course, Matthew as usual finds his cases leading back to the skulduggery of Henry’s court, so that we get an insight into the high politics of the day too. On top of all this, there’s lots of info about how wardship and guardianship worked, about the enclosure of common land, and about the legal system of the day. As I’ve said before, I’ve learned far more about the Tudor period from Sansom than from all the mighty history books I’ve ploughed through in my lifetime, with the added bonus that Sansom makes it interesting and enjoyable!

The Mary Rose
by Geoff Hunt, PPRSMA
via http://www.maryrose.org

Meantime, on the personal level, Jack is irritated to have to go away from London at this time, since Tamasin is heavily pregnant. Although Jack is still officially Matthew’s assistant, the two men are now close friends, almost family; and Jack, always loyal, is also able to be honest when he feels Matthew is making bad decisions. Guy is staying with Matthew after his shop was attacked, and Shardlake has a new steward who is not working out very well, and is giving Matthew yet another problem to solve.

Steven Crossley

Steven Crossley is again the narrator for this one, and his performance is really wonderful. It’s great having the same narrator for the whole series, since the recurring characters have the same voices each time, and I would find it very hard now to imagine the three major characters, Matthew, Jack and Guy, with different voices. But there’s always a cast of thousands (approximately) in a Shardlake novel, and Crossley does an amazing job of making each character distinct and individual, and immediately recognisable, which makes the listening experience so much easier and more enjoyable. He even does the women well, which is not always the case with male narrators. If the rumour is true that there’s a new Shardlake novel in the publishing pipeline, then I sincerely hope someone has already booked Crossley for the audio version!

You could certainly read this as a standalone in terms of plot, but to develop the emotional connection with the regulars it’s definitely better to read the series in order. And since each one is a masterpiece, that would certainly be no hardship – many, many hours of reading or listening pleasure!

Audible UK Link

38 thoughts on “Heartstone (Matthew Shardlake 5) by CJ Sansom

  1. This sounds much more satisfying than listening to an abridged version. I’ve often wondered how producers of spoken word set about cutting complex novels and assumed that, rather like movies, the result is often less than satsifactory.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’ve never seen the point of abridged books in general. Certainly it would be possible to extract the basic storyline from this one, but that would seem to miss the entire point of seeing the Tudor world in all its different aspects. And although it means that they are all very long books, they are also completely immersive experiences, for me at least, so I’m usually left wishing that they were even longer than they are!

      Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, I’m struggling with the Dalziel and Pascoe series for that reason – I think we’re onto about the third narrator now and it’s just about to change again, and each time it takes me at least two books to stop being irritated by how different the voices are from the last narrator! I think I’ll be more careful in future about starting a series that has a range of different narrators.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. One of the things I really like about this series, FictionFan, is that Sansom weaves together several plot lines, so that the reader gets a real feel for life at that time. And, of course, the mysteries themselves – the main plots – are really interesting, too. As you say, the books are complex, and sometimes long, and they do represent an investment of time. But Sansom makes you want to immerse yourself (well, me, anyway).

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, I find them really immersive. I also think he’s excellent at keeping all the strands progressing, so that you don’t ever forget what’s happening in one strand while concentrating on another. And I love that he takes the time to have Shardlake learn about different aspects of what’s going on in the wider world, so that we can learn alongside him. It really is an excellent series!

      Liked by 1 person

    • I think Sansom started out as an actual historian, but I’m quite certain he’s taught far more people about the period by using fiction than he ever would have done by writing history books! And he manages to make it enjoyable at the same time. 😀


  3. I remember really enjoying what I learned about the Mary Rose in this one… an event of which I knew very little.

    If I ever go back and revisit any of these in audio, I’ll make sure I look for this narrator. Unfortunately, it doesn’t appear my library has any in audio.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think we all became really aware of the Mary Rose over here because it got raised 20 or 30 years ago, and there was a lot of coverage of it then. But even so I found I learned loads from this book, and because he uses fiction somehow I find it easier to visualise and imagine the experience than I ever do with a factual account. I do hope you can get hold of the audio books with Stephen Crossley narrating – I actually think that I prefer listening to them because of him than reading them!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Audiobooks just don’t seem to work for me, but I read this book and the earlier Shardlake novels in physical form and loved them all. He creates such a believable Tudor world, and as you say, it’s more educational than a history book! For some reason I still haven’t read the last book, Tombland – I must try to get to it soon!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Audiobooks are still very variable for me, and it’s completely dependant on whether the narrator manages to hold my attention, and gives the characters voices that tie in with the voices in my head! Ha, well, the grapevine says that there’s a new Sansom on the way, probably next year, so given the length of Tombland I think you better start reading pretty soon… 😉


  5. I’ve not read (or listened to) any of these, and your review makes them sound interesting. It’s a gift, making history come alive. I wonder why audio books aren’t included on required reading lists for students these days (or perhaps they are?)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, good historical fiction is a great way to learn some history without the misery of ploughing through massive factual tomes! It would be interesting to know if schools have started teaching via audiobooks. Certainly they must be a great aid for children with sight problems or dyslexia. I must admit I always look on them as a different kind of art form to books, more akin to a film adaptation. That’s why the narrator is so important to me, and why I “re-read” so often in audiobooks rather than listening to books that are new to me – it’s all about the performance! 😀

      Liked by 1 person

    • Early retirement is a wonderful thing! 😀 These books really are excellent but the very fact that there’s so much in them does mean that they require a significant time commitment. However I find them so absorbing that they don’t take me nearly as long to read as other books with the same page count!

      Liked by 1 person

    • That’s what I like about him – he really brings history to life in a way that even the best history book never really does. And while I’m no expert on the period, it always seems to me that his facts are historically accurate. A great writer!


  6. This one is next on my list, so I only squinted at your review. I really enjoyed the last one. Reading them though, haven‘t tried the audio. No particular reason. I generally enjoy eye reading more than listening, although I have some series where I prefer the audio, because it‘s really well done.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I’ve just listened to all these Shardlake tales driving to Italy, they were brilliant and I would have never picked them up as printed books even though we’ve had one on a shelf for years and years! I agree, best listened to in order!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh, that must have been a wonderful way to liven up a long drive! Hope you had a great holiday. 😀 Yes, I loved the Shardlake books on paper but I think I love them even more as audiobooks – the narrator is so good! And although they’re really long, I find myself happily listening for extended periods of time which rarely happens to me with audiobooks. So glad you enjoyed them! 🎧

      Liked by 1 person

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