The Matthew Shardlake series by CJ Sansom is one of the best historical fiction crime series around. It’s likely not an overcrowded genre but nonetheless, Sansom seems to have marked himself down as the one to beat in the genre and the king of historical fiction crime.
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Revelation is the fourth book in the Shardlake series by Sansom – a series that sees lawyer Shardlake get himself embroiled in murders far more often than he’d like and end up having to solve them.
In Revelation, Shardlake ends up being involved in one of his darkest cases yet with some of the most brutal scenes Sansom has written yet. Yeah, here’s a warning: this isn’t a light and fluffy book – if they had to have a film rating, they’d likely be an 18.
Revelation plot – 4/5
Revelation sees Lawyer Matthew Shardlake experience the most personal loss yet, quite early on in the book. This then leads to an understanding that a killer is using the lines from the Book of Revelation to commit murders. Shardlake shouldn’t really be involved but he makes a promise to a dear friend that he’ll help find the killer and stop the murders.
Sansom is truly a phenomenal writer when it comes to the plot. He balances action, speech and progression with the plot almost perfectly. I say almost because at times I did feel a little like the book was repeating sections simply to remind the reader or to fill a page or two. This was only from a very critical eye though, it would likely be seen as simply Shardlake and his companions repeating information to help them build a grander picture each time.
Revelation, as I said above, is probably the darkest and most personal book for Shardlake, making it feel even more immersive and personable than the previous books. There feels like there is more at stake in this book than ever before.
Revelation characters – 5/5
This leads us nicely to the characters in Revelation. If you’ve read my Dissolution review (the first book in the series) you’ll see that I noted that Sansom clearly has an incredible talent for writing genuine and real characters. None of this fluffy, hero crap. He writes about characters who lose their temper, who are rude and who are actually dislikable at times but also have heroic tendencies or brave moments.
Shardlake himself, if you didn’t know, is a lawyer with a hunchback. It pains him and he is often teased for it and is commented on. It is something throughout all of the books that is the first thing to be mentioned by many. My love for SHardlake is that his mind, his abilities and his growing reputation mean his physical difference is seen less and less by those around him as something odd and grotesque and more of something they wish to help him with and support him with. And again, he loses his temper sometimes, snaps at people, grows impatient, is sometimes rude. But he is generally incredibly kind and helpful and sees the good in people where some may not. Also, he’s incredibly smart and I love a smart character.
The accompanying characters throughout Revelation are great too. Again, they feel real and genuine – they have flaws and quirks and unique personality traits that mean they react differently from one another, offer up different perspectives and inevitably give the whole story and plot far more depth.
Revelation by C.J. Sansom overall rating – 4/5
Revelation may well be my favourite Shardlake story by C.J. Sansom so far. It’s a story that’s far more personal than before, feels a lot darker than before and continues Sansom’s incredible ability to immerse you in the 1500s including religious changes at the time, political dramas and conspiracies and the class divides that have been documented throughout history books. If you’re a historical fiction fan, the Shardlake series should be at the top of your list.