I was recommended Dissolution by a mate after we went camping and I saw he was holding a very thick book (I’m always intrigued by thick books). The book he was reading what actually a later book in the series but he noted the whole series is fantastic, so my love of the Matthew Shardlake series began.
This was my first proper historical fiction book that didn’t include some sort of fantastical element. I actually picked this up before I read The Alienist and is what we got me into the genre. Going into this, the idea of reading about a time long gone by didn’t pique my interest, however, after reading it, I’ve grown quite in love with the genre.
Plot – 4/5
Dissolution tells the story of Matthew Shardlake, a lawyer in 1537 with a hunchback. When a horrible murder happens at a monastery along the south coast, Thomas Cromwell, Henry VIII’s vicar general asks Shardlake to take a look. What ensues is a decent storyline that details the 1500s incredibly and immerses you into the times.
The story itself I found to be a little slow. There are a few events along the way that re-grasps your interest and these are the reason I kept reading. However, there was a definite feeling of forcing myself through the book at certain stages. I must admit though, the last third of the book was really good and the action really picked up, the twists started being introduced and I think I finally got my head around the pacing and the purpose of the book. C.J. Sansom really knows his stuff and this was a huge aid to helping not break my immersion from the events unfolding within the book.
Characters – 4.5/5
I utterly loved Matthew Shardlake as a character. C.J. Sansom is one of the best writers of characters I’ve experienced. Shardlake comes across as a highly flawed character – he’s got a short temper, he sometimes forgets his place and he has a past that brings him constant negative reminders of his youth. As I mentioned above, Shardlake has an arched back which I think it’s a fascinating feature to give your main character. Sansom deals with this unique “deformity” with wonderful grace. It sounds like he’s done his research and also includes tales from SHardlake’s youth growing up with the problem. Despite all of this, Shardlake is a loveable character – he’s soft when he needs to be, his heart is in the right place and his moral compass seems to be pointing in the direction most of the time.
The characters that accompany Shardlake are great too – adding another layer of depth to the interactions that Shardlake must deal with. Sansom blends the characters well with their interactions feeling natural and warranted. Due to this being the first in the series, there is a certain element of Sansom getting to understand his characters and playing it a little safer than he possibly needs to. I know in the later books different characters are introduced and Shardlake’s personality becomes more refined.
Dissolution summary – 4/5
I was surprised how much I enjoyed Dissolution by C.J. Sansom. I went into it with fairly high expectations having never really read anything this it before. I felt very underwhelmed for the first few hundred pages, appreciating the writing and the characters but not really understanding why the plot should be pulling me in. However, once I began to understand the plot more, once I’d done my research into the 1500s and began to immerse myself better within the religion of the time, the rules of the time and generally how the UK worked back then, I began to forget about these parts and concentrate on the story and the characters. This is when I began to really enjoy the book. A slow starter but a great finisher and one that definitely had me intrigued to read the follow-up novels.
If you want reviews of other historical fiction I’ve read, you can find those here.