Historical Fiction: Dark Fire, by C. J. Sansom

4.0 out of 5 stars WMD

Lawyer Matthew Shardlake’s second assignment from Thomas Cromwell is even more harrowing than the first (Dissolution). Cromwell knows he’s in trouble with his king because of the disastrous Cleves marriage brokered by him, and, as ever when Henry VIII has a problem, he looks for someone else to blame. Cromwell’s pinned his hopes and his life on Greek Fire, a super-combustible substance that historically may be the world’s first genuine weapon of mass destruction. He’s seen what it can do when a pair of mercenary rogues approached him hoping to sell it to him for a king’s ransom. But now the two are dead under mysterious circumstances, and Cromwell’s pinned the responsibility for recovering the formula on Shardlake. In return, Cromwell places a twelve day stay of execution on Matthew’s latest client, a young woman accused of murdering her cousin. Fortunately, Cromwell has provided Shardlake with an able assistant, Jack Barak, who can help him with the more physical aspects of the search. Dark Fire is more than a mystery, with its rich historical context. There’s plenty of action, but author Sansom does not allow the hunt to supersede such topical themes as class, poverty, greed, religion, racism, and a myriad of other prejudices, most of which still plague us today. He has brought back the exotic apothecary/alchemist Guy, a former monk who is also a Moor. And by introducing the character of Jake Barak, he’s injected a welcome vein of youth to offset the innate conservatism of Shardlake. Plot, character, vivid historical context, and ethical conflict; Dark Fire has it all and is a most entertaining read as well.


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