‘Sovereign’ Book Review

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“So compulsive that, until you reach the final page, you’ll have to be almost physically prised away from it” – The Sunday Times.

That quotation from the Sunday Times on the front cover of ‘Sovereign’ is high praise indeed. I discovered that they are not far off the mark. Sequels are often not as good as their predecessors yet this is the third in a series and is still a great read. Without having the read the previous books this stands out as something special. I will read the others.

‘Sovereign’ is a thriller, a mystery, a history lesson, and more. It is set in York during the reign of Henry VIII and features his visit to York. Well written and full of small details that communicated so much, such as the description (page 498) of looking out of a window running with rain drops and seeing a curled leaf sticking to it looking like an accusing finger.

As a resident of York I enjoyed imagining familiar streets, churches and ruins as they would have been in the 1500s. I followed the paths of the characters as they walked along ancient streets that I go along regularly, some of them little changed in this ancient city.

As a Christian, I could not help feeling a sadness at the vivid accounts of the wreckage of the churches and abbeys and their art works as part of Henry’s religious reforms. So much art and history lost, hand copied manuscripts and ancient maps all destroyed, such madness.

I thought of the horror and brutality of those long-ago reforms, which were more about power than theology, I could not overlook that this book is written in our time. By looking at those long distant scenes and events the novel speaks to me of the present age with its bankrupt political expedients such as the barbarity of “renditions”, Guantanamo Bay and the torture practised by contractors (mercenaries) of western governments.

I felt much of this present political rot was summed up in a vividly told scene in ‘Sovereign’ when the hero is bowing before the aged king. The king is suffering from a putrefying wound on his leg smelling of decay. The hero sees the attempts to hide the imperfection yet notices traces of bandaging under the clean white outer hose. He smells the stink and watches a fly alighting briefly on the spot stained with the seeping puss.

I found myself thinking of some governments, particularly the USA, seeking to disguise the decay now at its heart, but without success. It was while reading this book that I listened to a radio news feature regarding the debate in the USA as to whether “water boarding” is torture or not. I see the fly on the stain!

President Bush refuses to reveal the CIA’s interrogation procedures, but CIA officers have told ABC News they involve six escalating steps, ending in what is known as water boarding, in which prisoners are made to feel they are drowning. Human rights groups call it torture, but the President disagrees.

“The United States does not torture,” he said. “It’s against our laws, and it’s against our values. I have not authorized it, and I will not authorize it.”

I think anyone experiencing water boarding would call it torture. US national intelligence chief Mike McConnell has said the interrogation technique of water-boarding “would be torture” if he were subjected to it. I bet Bush would think so too!

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