The Mirror & the Light (Wolf Hall Trilogy, 3)

by Hilary Mantel

Hardcover, 2020




Henry Holt & Company (2020), 784 pages


""If you cannot speak truth at a beheading, when can you speak it?" England, May 1536. Anne Boleyn is dead, decapitated in the space of a heartbeat by a hired French executioner. As her remains are bundled into oblivion, Thomas Cromwell breakfasts with the victors. The blacksmith's son from Putney emerges from the spring's bloodbath to continue his climb to power and wealth, while his formidable master, Henry VIII, settles to short-lived happiness with his third queen before Jane dies giving birth to the male heir he most craves. Cromwell is a man with only his wits to rely on; he has no great family to back him, no private army. Despite rebellion at home, traitors plotting abroad and the threat of invasion testing Henry's regime to the breaking point, Cromwell's robust imagination sees a new country in the mirror of the future. But can a nation, or a person, shed the past like a skin? Do the dead continually unbury themselves? What will you do, the Spanish ambassador asks Cromwell, when the king turns on you, as sooner or later he turns on everyone close to him? With The Mirror & the Light, Hilary Mantel brings to a triumphant close the trilogy she began with Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies. She traces the final years of Thomas Cromwell, the boy from nowhere who climbs to the heights of power, offering a defining portrait of predator and prey, of a ferocious contest between present and past, between royal will and a common man's vision: of a modern nation making itself through conflict, passion, and courage"--… (more)

Media reviews

She [Mantel] is still exuberantly rethinking what novels can do. Not since Bleak House has the present tense performed such magic. The narrative voice rides at times like a spirit or angel on thermals of vitality, catching the turning seasons, the rhythms of work and dreams, cities and kitchens and
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User reviews

LibraryThing member brenzi
"Once the queen's head is severed, he walks away. A sharp pang of appetite reminds him that it is time for a second breakfast, or perhaps an early dinner. The morning's circumstances are new and there are no rules to guide us. The witnesses, who have knelt for the passing of the soul, stand up and
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put on their hats. Under the hats, their faces are stunned....But then he turns back, to say a word of thanks to the executioner. The man has performed his office with style; and though the king is paying him well, it is important to reward good service with encouragement, as well as purse. Having once been a poor man, he knows this from experience." (Page 2-3)

Thomas Cromwell may have once been a poor man, but that was many, many years ago. He's now very wealthy and the king's right hand man. And he doesn't mind getting his hands dirty and rewarding good service. That's his modus operandi and has kept him in good stead. But things seem to be gradually changing and Cromwell is beginning to wonder if his enemies, and there are several, may be aiming to undermine him. But how can that be? He has the confidence of Henry, the king......Doesn't he?

Hilary Mantel hit another homerun in this conclusion to her Wolf Hall Trilogy, the story of Thomas Cromwell told from his point of view and in a first person narrative that was compelling, educational and heart pounding with touches of laugh out loud moments. I was a little bit surprised in the author's note to see just how many of the characters were actual historical figures. I knew the king and his family and some of the major characters were factual but I was taken aback by the minor factual characters.

But the real star here is Mantel's luscious writing and her brilliant characterizations. The characters are all so well drawn and meaty. When Cromwell's downfall begins, the presentation of Anne of Cleeves places a special burden on him, because he is responsible for the match between Henry and his fourth wife (it's his third wife's head, that lies on the ground beneath the executioner's sword in the first paragraph above). Things are not working out very well and Cromwell seems to be losing his sway over the king.

If you're new to Mantel, don't start here. You need to get the full treatment from the beginning of the trilogy. It is magnificent, in my opinion. I really didn't want it to end. People who complain about the tedious details that Mantel includes in all three books simply don't appreciate excellent historical fiction. And that's what we have here. Remarkable. Brilliant. Magnificent. I've run out of superlatives. Oh there's another one....superlative.
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LibraryThing member lauralkeet
Henry’s eyes are on his portrait of himself, massive, on the wall of the chamber. His own eyes consult the image of his master. “What should I want with the Emperor, were he emperor of all the world? Your Majesty is the only prince. The mirror and the light of other kings.”

When I received my
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pre-ordered copy of The Mirror and the Light on the day it was released, I dropped pretty much everything to read it. I’m so glad I did; it was totally worth the 8-year wait (the previous book, Bring up the Bodies, was published in 2012). Set during the reign of King Henry VIII, Bring up the Bodies ends with the execution of Anne Boleyn in 1536. This third and final book in Mantel’s Thomas Cromwell trilogy begins immediately after, and I do mean immediately. This rather gruesome start is very effective at dropping the reader right into the middle of the story so you don’t miss a beat.

At this point in history, Thomas Cromwell was at the height of his career, serving as Master Secretary to the King and Lord Privy Seal -- not bad for a commoner from Putney. But what do those titles mean, in practical terms?
Somewhere--or Nowhere, perhaps--there is a society ruled by philosophers. They have clean hands and pure hearts. But even in the metropolis of light there are maddens and manure-heaps, swarming with flies. Even in the republic of virtue you need a man who will shove up the shit, and somewhere it is written that Cromwell is his name..

Cromwell is a busy man, managing the dissolution of the monasteries and quelling the uprisings that followed, fending off potential threats from France and the Roman Empire, and -- most significantly for this novel -- engineering Henry’s next marriage, to Anne of Cleves. This strategic and initially promising match turned disastrous the moment Henry set eyes on Anne, and he held Cromwell responsible. This was just the opening his political opponents needed, and thus began Cromwell’s downfall.

This book is much longer than its predecessors, but so well written that I couldn’t put it down. Despite a very large cast of characters, it was fairly easy to keep track of who’s who (and Mantel includes a helpful reference). The characters are richly detailed, and the reader gets to know them so well they can actually spot the tiny details foreshadowing the betrayal of Cromwell. And those same tiny details are used to brilliant effect in showing Cromwell’s internal failings. A man formerly on top of his game would suddenly lose focus in a meeting, or forget to handle some small but strategically important matter. The final pages are, like the rest of the novel, told from Cromwell’s perspective which, given the outcome, is a literary feat unto itself.

To fully appreciate this book you have to have read the first two in the trilogy. So please, go do that and then immediately read The Mirror and the Light.
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LibraryThing member nivramkoorb
This is the 3rd and final book of the Thomas Cromwell trilogy. After reading the first 2 you really have to read the 3rd. Of course we all know how it ends. What makes this trilogy compelling is getting into the head of Cromwell as conceived by Mantel. At 750 pages it is a slow slog but satisfying.
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The relationships between all of the players is fascinating. The influence of religion throughout the middle ages is overwhelming and of course a major impediment to the advancement that could have taken place with the free flow of information. That being said this is a book that is must for those who have read the 1st 2 books. For everyone else, I suggest starting with Wolf Hall and going through all 3 books. It is a worthwhile journey.
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LibraryThing member witchyrichy
It took me a long time to read The Mirror and the Light. I didn't remember that struggle with the earlier books. Perhaps it was because I knew what was coming? It was also 100 pages longer than either of the other books, more introspective and thick with detail and carefully spun prose. That being
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said, once I let myself settle in, the last 300 pages moved along and then the finale pulled me in today so I had to finish.

I don't know if it was Mantel's intention, but there is much in her Henry that reminded me of our outgoing President. Henry is petulant when he doesn't get his way, quick to blame others for his own defects, erratic in his outlook from moment to moment, rewriting stories about himself and his actions.

Ultimately, the book was good but it is thick so plan accordingly.
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LibraryThing member threadnsong
Maybe on the re-read I'll appreciate this book more. And I am so sad to say that - it is a beautifully written work, full of court intrigues and Thomas Cromwell's musings and a whole lotta history. But there was a point at which the political machinations and the conversations just became too much.
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Too much to keep up with, the enormous cast of characters at the front was overwhelming, and because people are addressed with one title and referenced by another name, it became slow going.

But, I'm sure I'll re-read it in years to come and maybe that will make all the difference. I loved her first two volumes and hope to love this one more.
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LibraryThing member quondame
Thomas Cromwell has exercised every power available to him when this book starts, and while he collects more lands, offices, and honors, there are things he cannot control and those he no longer oversees. Cromwell, alert, hungry, proactive is little present here, the the continued accumulation of
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property and status seeming more momentum than exertion. The reader has a much more interior, almost stream of conscious window on Cromwell, almost every event described from 1536 1540 evokes imagery from his past and the reader floats through the multitudinous pages of this volume on the language of this imagery.

"The monuments of dead monarchs draw together, as if their bones were counseling each other; and the prophetic pavements beneath them, those stones of onyx, porphyry, green serpentine and glass, advise us through their inscriptions how many years the world will last."

All in all, I preferred the earlier two volumes, but should I survive until I can check a hardback from the library for more than a couple of weeks, this will merit a more leisurely read.
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LibraryThing member SocProf9740
You know that sadness when you reached the end of such an awesome book that it will take a few days before you can start another one? It's even worse because you know this is the end of the trilogy and you probably won't read something as powerful in a good long while. Yeah, it's like that.
LibraryThing member AlisonY
Wow - what a superlative conclusion to this trilogy. I'm almost tempted to end my review there as it's hard not to repeat much of the enthusing from my reviews of the first two books, but I'll have a go.

This third instalment was much chunkier, and Mantel perhaps overindulged herself in the plot
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here and there where she didn't need to, but mostly once again this was tight as a drum narration that had me totally invested in the novel, beyond hooked. Of course, the fact that this is a story based around a fascinatingly gruesome period in English history could be hook enough, but in the wrong hands the numerous characters at court could easily become staid at times. Instead, 'living' it through Mantel's handling of Cromwell as narrator is as close as I think we can come through a book to being truly immersed in a period in history. How much more vivid it becomes in our minds, how much easier it is to remember details that would often be quickly forgotten from a non-fiction read.

Mantel has proven herself to be an author that is simply on another level with this trilogy. The historical research on its own is simply mind-blowing, but she also handles that research with such a deft hand, avoiding the temptation to include what is not pertinent to Cromwell's story yet using detail and emotion with the cleverest of brush strokes to invoke all our senses as readers.

As we have lived inside Cromwell's head for almost 2,000 pages it was difficult not to feel saddened by his demise at the end of The Mirror and the Light. That I need to think about some more. Has Mantel gone too far in invoking my sympathy for him? History often has it that Cromwell was ambitious, unscrupulous, brutal and corrupt, yet Mantel very much left me feeling of him less as a monster and more as a man who yes, was undeniably ruthlessly fixated on advancing his own position, but who was also playing a game where only dirty tactics win. He was a man also prepared to take much personal risk for the advancement of the knowledge of the gospel, and ultimately a person of great guile, which for a long time protected the interests of Henry.

My ultimate conclusion of Cromwell (thanks to Mantel) is that he was all these things: brutal when he needed to be (especially with his personal enemies), power-hungry, loyal, sympathetic and, above all else, rather brilliant in terms of how he manoeuvred himself and spun so many plates for the king.

4.5 stars - I feel almost cruel for knocking off half a star (for those moments when the plot meandered without needing to), but a fantastic end to a trilogy that has simply astounded me.
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LibraryThing member etxgardener
Hillary Mantel will surely win the Booker Prize trifecta with this final volume in her trilogy about the life of Thomas Cromwell. Anyone with a passing knowledge of English history knows how this one is going to turn out, but Mantel's prose seeps the reader into the plots, intrigues, and jealousies
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that swirled around and through the court of Henry VIII. This is one hell of a read.
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LibraryThing member eas7788
This world fully enveloped me through all three books. I admire her ability to create this world -- the specificity of detail, the use of voice -- and make it relevant -- the way power works, the way those who serve power contort themselves, the struggle between individual power and social progress.
LibraryThing member LARA335
Fascinating portrait of a man instrumental in changing England’s history. Mantel brings to life the time with astonishing immediacy. My one minor quibble is that Cromwell was portrayed as forever claustrophobically ruminating at his desk & I longed for the larger view. He employed perhaps
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hundreds of staff and built and owned impressive properties that he must have enjoyed, but Mantel chose to zone in, and so I felt I wasn’t being presented with the whole, complex man.
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LibraryThing member PhilipJHunt
I wanted to like it more. I enjoyed ‘Wolf Hall’ and ‘Bring up the bodies’ so much. This was more of the same, but just too much. A hugely impressive writing achievement, like a few huge books before. And, like ‘War and Peace’, a bit too much to cope with.
LibraryThing member alexbolding
Part 3 of the unforgettable Cromwell series is the best yet. Best read in years. Dunno quite how to describe it.

The consistent use of the third person for Thomas, Tom, Crumb, Cremuel and yet feeling as a reader as if one lives, breathes, despairs as the person himself in the most I form one can
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get. That’s crafty. But it becomes crafty on the verge of stunning when one realizes the sheer number characters contained in the cast that Thomas interacts with, and whom we all get to know almost intimately… How’s that possible? Is it the detailed descriptions of mimic, facial expressions, walking habits, jokes? Mantel somehow brings to life all those dreary characters from the history books. She also applies the technique of frequent flash backs, revealing yet more from Thomas’ youth and his years in Italy (of which very little is known with any degree of certainty, thus allowing Mantel some artistic freedom to build a back story around Thomas Cromwell). Yet another feat that Mantel achieves is to show through the daily, weekly, monthly interactions of Cromwell with his sex-driven King and with the duplicitous diplomats of the Habsburg Empire and French foes, to what extent international diplomacy in those days boiled down to the politics of high-level weddings and beddings. In that sense this novel is your ultimate guide to the Machiavelli of bedding and wedding.

And yet there is more. Cromwell’s policy of hiring and firing of servants, spies and councillors as well as the re-allocation of impounded real estate formerly known as monasteries and the accompanying titles, shows how patronage is dispensed to not only concentrate power, but also foster changes in the cultural and spiritual live of England as a polity. In the process Cromwell rises to meteoric heights, whilst creating a network of enemies that will ultimately deliver him to the chopping block.

What brings him down in the end? A combination of the whimsical, lust driven character of Henry VIII; a history and commitment on the part of Cromwell himself for the protestant cause of Tyndale and Calvin (who hovers in the background) making him liable to accusations of heresy; and the ruthless, grudge driven policies of Norfolk and other ancient knightly families who consider Cromwell to be a low life and usurper of the King’s patronage that by heritage is their prerogative.
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LibraryThing member drmaf
Regretfully I did not enjoy this as much as as the first two, especially Bring Up the Bodies, which I am now counting as one of the best novels I have read. With Ann Boleyn removed, a lot of the tension and personal conflict disappeared, consequently this book seemed drifty and introspective, as
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Cromwell seemed to spend a lot of time reminiscing about his past, and the crises which marked this period,the death of Jane, the Pilgrimage of Grace, the Anne of Cleves fiasco, just didn't seem to pop like the the King's Great Matter did in the first two. However, it was great to see that in the last 100 pages Mantel seemed to find her mojo and produced what may be the best sequence in the series. The rapid-fire series of events leading up to Cromwell's fall and execution are brilliantly handled. The prose becomes short, choppy and almost abstract, seeming to reflect Cromwell's own state of mind as the realization of his doom encroaches. For those who have become attached to Cromwell over the huge span of the three books, it is sad, painful and lyrical to watch as he searches for flickers of hope. One is drawn back to arguably the best scene in the series, where Anne watched for pardon even as she walked to the scaffold, likewise Crum looks in vain for mercy from the man he served so totally. Mantel even teases with a "will he-wont he" scene with Henry, although we know full well what the end result will be. The prose on the last page very much reflects what the state of mind of someone approaching the scaffold must be, it is beautifully done. Yes, the book is a bit of a slog, but the last chapters are a fitting finale to such a tremendous series, its is well worth the wait.
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LibraryThing member Sandra_Wagner-Wright
The third volume in Mantel’s Wolf Hall Trilogy takes up the last four years of Thomas Cromwell’s life for over 700 pages. Anne Boleyn dies. Jane Seymour dies. Anne of Cleves manages an amicable divorce. And through it all, Cromwell plods on fulfilling the king’s whims, running England, and
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becoming disillusioned with his life.
This is a fascinating read about Tudor England and how an ambitious man finally reaches too high. Dense, colorful prose flows from a sure-handed author inviting the reader to smell the sewage and taste the food.
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LibraryThing member Matke
The Mirror and the Light is haunted by ghosts: Wolsey, Anne Boleyn, Walter Cromwell and more. But the primary spirit is that of Thomas Cromwell’s own past.
Again and again Thomas goes back to his earlier life and the people and forces that made him what he is. It’s an effective technique for
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the final volume exploring his life. His regrets, his fondness or hatred for those who have gone before, his sudden understanding of events are shown in sharp relief. The reader can see him as a fully-developed man with all his faults and failings—and his virtues as well.
Mantel’s writing here is as graceful as ever; this isn’t a book to race through but rather one to savor. By paying careful attention the reader will be dismayed, just as Cromwell is dismayed, when old friends turn out to be less that that.
Two things struck me: the resolution of his relationship with Brandon; and Cromwell’s casual order to rack a prisoner, when he had done his best to avoid using torture for so long.
A fine conclusion to a mesmerizing trilogy
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LibraryThing member alexrichman
A towering achievement (har har). Undoubtedly suffers from Goblet of Fire syndrome - it’s almost twice as long as the previous two - but Mantel writes so brilliantly that you’re hardly willing the book to end. Like a Russian epic, there’s a dizzying array of characters and subplots, and the
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denouement arrives in a bit of a rush... but isn’t that always the way?
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LibraryThing member albertgoldfain
Returning to Cromwell and company (after the intervening TV production of Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies) is a welcome escape into a very different political struggle. I bounced back and forth between the text and audiobook, and in this instance, the audiobook narration is absolutely masterful.
LibraryThing member bell7
Picking up right from the end of Bring Up the Bodies, we begin with the aftermath of Anne Boleyn's beheading and follow Thomas Cromwell and his household through King Henry's next marriage and all the political machinations in his court and across Europe, until the end of Cromwell's life.

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this book was a surreal experience because, through all of it, you know the end to a lesser or greater degree. Mine leans towards the lesser - I knew Cromwell died, but not exactly how - as I'm aware of Henry VIII and especially his first two wives, but not a lot beyond that. This book is hefty in more ways than one, over 700 pages and dense with details. In Wolf Hall I remember thinking Cromwell an enigma; in The Mirror and the Light we see him thinking over his decisions and reminiscing about the past more than before. I admire how Mantel sticks close to known history while still exploring possibilities of choices and motives. A fitting conclusion to a superbly written trilogy.
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LibraryThing member brangwinn
The third book in the series, which began with Wolf Hall (2009) is a stand-alone book, but I would have enjoyed it more if I had read the first two books in the series. This book is told through Cromwell’s eyes, as he worries about King Henry’s continually changing friendships. And after 1700
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pages in this final book in the series you know a lot about him.
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LibraryThing member PeggyDean
The long wait for Book 3 meant it took a while for me to slip back into the life and manipulations of Thomas Cromwell. Picking up at the beheading of Anne Boleyn, Mantel does her magic with words, painting Cromwell as equal parts consummate politician, religious scholar, and family man trying to,
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at least, provide a way for the family to survive after he's gone. This is not a book for the faint of heart, but Mantel slips in plenty of sly humor as well. Overall, it's a masterful completion of the Thomas Cromwell trilogy and provides a fascinating look into life in the court of Henry VIII.
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LibraryThing member INeilC
A fitting ending to the trilogy. An absolute page-turner. Not only is it a cracking good story, but Mantel's attention to the descriptive detail of Tudor England - the food, sounds, smells - is exemplary.
LibraryThing member BDartnall
Lengthy -and sad- it is the sudden "fall" of Cromwell but so well written, & a great imagining of this amazing Rennaissance man's life, thought, viewpt.
LibraryThing member waldhaus1
It is hard to know how to review this book. Most of those reading or considering reading will know it is the third part of a trilogy which is the magnum opus about Thomas Cromwell and Henry VIII of England written by Hilary Mantel. Certainly Henry is notorious enough for a story he is featured in
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to be appealing. The author has managed to bring Henry, Cromwell, and many other characters to life for this reader. There is enough information here I finish wondering when I should reread the entire series. I believe that would be a rewarding experience.
Henry comes accross as less barbaric and more fallible than I would have pictured him. Cromwell is certainly interesting and one can see there must have been something commanding in his Genes as his great great grand nephew lead the English civil war.
I suspect the reformation would have persisted with or without Henry taking the church or England out of the Catholic church - but that was not a trivial event for church history.
The status of women, and the relationship between men and women is portrayed very clearly. At times I find myself surprised at the words the woman author was able to put into the mouth of the male characters - she is clearly a thoughtful observer.
There were many details of the history or that time - such as some of the rebellions that I was unaware of. Of course the Tudors took over the throne as the result of the war of the roses.
It has been said that the game of thrones is a fanciful retelling of the war of the roses.
The politicians of that time were bloodthirsty. Perhaps our contemporary politicians are just more subtle about their blood thirstyness.
This is a very long book - not something for a quick weekend read to pass the time. It is thought provoking and will surely reward pondering.
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LibraryThing member smik
We listened to this in the car over a number of weekends (38 hours of it) and were very regretful when it finished, not just because the recording came to an end, but because it was almost as if a well-known friend had died.

The story of Henry VIII and his six wives is one that all history lovers
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are familiar with, and so we have a broad idea of the content of this book. Where THE MIRROR AND THE LIGHT excels is in bringing the times, characters and issues to light both through the text and the excellent verbal rendition.

An excellent series.
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