Summer, 1546. King Henry VIII is slowly, painfully dying. His Protestant and Catholic councillors are engaged in a final and decisive power struggle; whoever wins will control the government of Henry's successor, eight-year-old Prince Edward. As heretics are hunted across London, and the radical Protestant Anne Askew is burned at the stake, the Catholic party focus their attack on Henry's sixth wife, Matthew Shardlake's old mentor, Queen Catherine Parr.
C. J. Sansom is one of my favourite authors, and I've enjoyed reading his 'Shardlake' series, so I opened this massive 615 page brick of a book with high expectations. I was not dissapointed - how about this for an opening sentence: 'I did not want to attend the burning.'
Set in the final days of King Henry VIII, the tension of his court is palpable and the dying king's dark, brooding presence is a sinister as anything I've read by Stephen King (another of my favourite authors.)
Our hero, Matthew Sharlake, has a soft spot for Henry's last wife, Queen Catherine Parr, and is soon drawn in to the dangerous world of religious reform. Spies lurk around every corner, heretics will risk anything for their cause and even the law offers no sanctuary.
I found the author's historical notes at the back of the book particularly useful, and like any great historical fiction this book has made me want to learn more about the period - and the life of Queen Catherine Parr.