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Hilary Mantel is a great historical novelist! Mantel soared to fame by producing "Wolf Hall" winner of Great Britain's Man Booker Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award for fiction. Wolf Hall told the story of Henry the VIII's desire to divorce Katherine of Aragon his first wife. Henry was upset that this Spanish daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella had been unable to produce a male child. Her only child was Mary (later known as Bloody Mary., She was a strong Roman Catholic believer who was an aunt to Charles V ruler of the Holy Roman Empire. Henry had been seduced by the fetching Anne Boleyn. After Henry divorced Katherine he quickly wed Anne. She also failed to produce a male heir for evil Henry. Her only child was Elizabeth I (1533-1603) who would prove to be the greatest Queen in English history. Anne was a student of the Protestant movement in Europe and a fan of Wlliam Tyndale the English translator of the Bible and Martin Luther the famous German Lutheran.
"Bring Up the Bodies" is the sequel to "Wolf Hall." In this 410 page book we see events of 1535-36 through the eyes of Thomas Crowell the Master Secretary to Henry. Wolf Hall was the ancestral home of the Seymour family. Henry became infatuated with the plain faced and virginal Jane Seymour for whom he rid himself of Anne. Jane would give birth to King Edward VI. The book covers the death of Katherine of Aragon living under house arrest; the arrest and execution of Anne of Boleyn and several of her lovers and the rising star of Thomas Cromwell in the constellation of Henry VIII's universe
The story of Anne Boleyn's rise and fall has been told in countless novels, films and plays. When then does Mantel's work stand out from many of the more mediocre productions? In this humble reviewer's opinon the reasons are many. Among them:
a. Mantel knows how to make a familiar story read like a new tale as she uses poetical language to make the reader feel as if she/he were actually on the scene in sixteenth century England. You can almost feel the chill of the castles and the beauty of an English springtime set amidst the turmoil and terror of political and religion intrigue.
b. Mantel has chosen well in selecting Thomas Cromwell as her eyes and ears. Cromwell rose from a blacksmith's shop in Putney to wield power under the fallen Cardinal Wolsley and to serve as Henry VIII's "hit man" adept at cleaning up the fat king's marital affairs.
c. Mantel is a master of dialogue. She is especially keen to make us feel the horror suffered by the lovers of Anne prior to their execution. Cromwell was a master inquisitor in ferreting out treason.
d. Mantel knows how to produce tension and drama so our fingers keep flipping the pages.
There are quibbles to make. There are many characters to keep track of in the story. Those familiar with Tudor history will do better at keeping them straight than novices to this period of English history. Mantel does provide a helpful list of the characters at the beginning of the novel. This revieweer is looking forward to the next book in the Thomas Cromwell series.
Congratulations to Hilary Mantell for a great novel well researched and written. The novel deserves the success it has already achieved!
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