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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 diana.hauser
THE MIRROR AND THE LIGHT by Hilary Mantel is the stunning conclusion to the Wolf Hall Trilogy.
Award-winning and exquisitely written, this unparalleled work is a masterpiece of complex personalities, intrigue and conscience.
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intimate view of Thomas Cromwell and his service to both Cardinal Wolsey and Tudor King Henry VIII.
Absolutely not to be missed. *****
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LibraryThing member maryreinert
Just another absolutely wonderful read by Hillary Mantel who I believe is the best author writing today. Her sentences, her descriptions, and her characters come alive from the page.
The story picks up where "Bring up the Bodies" left off. The opening pages are at the beheading of Anne Boleyn; Jane
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Seymour is on the scene waiting to become the next queen. Henry is besides himself wanting an heir and Thomas Cromwell is in the midst of it all. He he handling Henry, handling foreign affairs, handling the closing of the monasteries, and handling the religious crisis between the Pope and Henry and the rest of Europe.

The story ends with the beheading of Cromwell. Mantel does an amazing job of tying Cromwell's life together with the threads of his childhood.

An amazing book just like the other two.
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LibraryThing member Doondeck
It is amazing how Mantel can incorporate all the politics, theology, machinations and royal intrigue in this story. A long but enjoyable read.
LibraryThing member Cariola
It took me quite a while to finish this last book in the Cromwell trilogy. In part, that's because I hated to see the series in, in part because I'm finding it a bit hard to focus on reading in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, and in part because, honestly, it did drag a bit at times. Some
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readers and reviewers have remarked that it seemed like Mantel was reluctant to let hr protagonist go--or to let go of any of her extensive research. This book is much more political than the previous two, and that may be what caused it to lag at times. Cromwell is constantly at odds with Thomas Howard, Duke of Norfolk, a man who, in terms of the "blood v. merit" argument, stands firmly on his family's position as 'old nobility.' Norfolk is trying to make amends for promoting his niece, Anne Boleyn, and is now parading another Howard girl, Katherine, in front of the king. While Cromwell had a contentious relationship with Anne, he barely has one at all with the new queen, Jane Seymour, who comes off as little more than a naive, plump dolt. After her death, he negotiates Henry's marriage to Anne of Cleves, who, as we all know, was not to his liking; this may have been the start of Cromwell's fall from grace. The court has become vicious, and Henry so vain and vacuous, that everyone is constantly on their guard. Cromwell knows that Richard Rich can't be trusted, but can trust the rest of his protégés?

Somewhat surprisingly, the most intriguing relationships in [The Mirror and the Light] are between Cromwell and a number of women. He is determined to save the life of Mary, the daughter of Katherine of Aragon, and to reconcile her with her father the king. He establishes such a friendly, protective relationship with her that rumors eventually spread that he intends to marry her and inherit the crown himself. Then there is the mistress of his friend Thomas Wyatt, set to spy on the Catholic Poles, cousins who claim to be the legitimate heirs after Henry (if not before). He also befriends Margaret Douglas, Henry's niece, who falls into disgrace after a secret marriage; advises a prioress whose convent has been disbanded and property seized (a woman who, in a different hour, he might have chosen as a wife); and meets a daughter that he never knew existed. Friends recommend that he marry as quickly as possible to dispel the rumors about Mary, but the only women that interest him--Jane Seymour's sister and Lady Latimer (aka Katherine Parr, who would become Henry's last wife) are spoken for. When the former is widowed, Cromwell chooses her not for himself but for his son Gregory, a move that sets up tensions between father and son.

In between personal conflicts, Cromwell is confronted with rebellion in the north leading to the disastrous Pilgrimage of Grace, and the machinations of the French king and the Holy Roman Emperor. All, of course, while trying to stay in Henry's good graces. As you can see, there's a lot going on in this novel, yet Mantel still manages to give us deeper insight into the heart (yes, he has one) and mind of her protagonist. While [Wolf Hall] remains my favorite part of the trilogy, [The Mirror and the Light] is definitely up to the task of following Cromwell through his rapid rise and sudden fall, all the while painting a brutal picture of the Tudor court.
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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 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 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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LibraryThing member Romonko
I am not afraid of big books. I read War and Peace and Middlemarch, and I've read the other two books in this trilogy. I read Sharon Kay Penman, James Michener and other really long tomes. But I only made it to page 80 in this book and I had to quit. I didn't understand it and didn't get the
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double-entendres that Thomas Cromwell has been noted for. I realize that Hilary Mantel has superior writing skills, and that her research into her era is impeccable. But I couldn't care enough to try to figure it all out by maybe page 500. My review is no reflection on the book or on Hilary Mantel, but it's because I just couldn't read anymore.
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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 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 Narshkite
A flawless end to a flawless trilogy.

Years ago my husband and I saw Titanic when it came out. There was an old couple behind us, the wife irritatingly repeating every other line for the hubby, and when we get to the climax he yells "Oh my God! I think they're going to hit it!" We missed most of the
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rest because we were either cracking up or trying desperately to not start laughing again. So like the Titanic, everyone but some old guy at the Brooklyn Heights Theatre knows about Henry VIII at some level. This is an intricate, nuanced and fascinating story no less dramatic because we all know how it ends.

We know the story, but I will say that reading this in the age of Trump it is unsettling how much he is like Henry VIII, even though the people who fall from grace now get to keep their heads (An improvement for sure.) Ben Miles is a spectacular narrator. I read the first two books in print, and am thinking I may want to go back and listen to the first two books.
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LibraryThing member JBD1
I looked back at my review of Wolf Hall just now, written more than ten years ago now, and found that at that point Mantel had projected the Cromwell story to take two books, not three. With the second volume covering just a few months, this one is forced to cover a bit more ground, from the
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execution of Anne Boleyn to the end of Cromwell four years later. Like the first, I found that it plodded a bit, though the plodding didn't hold my interest quite as well this time round; I got a little bored, I have to say. Things pick up toward the end after the Anne of Cleves debacle and the last few chapters are excellent, though.
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Booker Prize (Longlist — 2020)
Women's Prize for Fiction (Longlist — 2020)
The British Book Industry Awards (Shortlist — Fiction — 2021)
BookTube Prize (Quarterfinalist — Fiction — 2021)


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