Publication Date: April 30, 2009
Publisher: Picador USA
Genre: Historical Fiction
I have wanted to read this book since I first heard about it because I used to be somewhat obsessed with Tudor history and I’m still very interested in it. It is such a fascinating and rich history that Mantel does an impeccable job of transporting the reader to. Most of my focus on Tudor history has been on the women so I only knew Thomas Cromwell from the periphery of those stories. And what I did read of him he always played a villainous figure. There are times in this book where he undoubtedly is, (and I’m interested in how he fares in the second book) but Mantel really humanizes him and fleshes him out to be a wonderfully complex character.
This first book in the Thomas Cromwell trilogy follows along with Cromwell in the turbulent early 1500’s as King Henry Vlll is trying to divorce his wife, Queen Katherine, of twenty years to marry his mistress, Anne Boleyn. This upheaval dramatically shapes the future of England and this book is a riveting look at what life was like during that time.
I loved everything about this book but one of my favorite things about Mantel’s writing is how she so easily transports the reader to the 1500’s. There were many times during this book that I felt that I was really there and could see the scenes so vividly in my head. It was almost impossible to put this book down because I was so captivated by the writing and all the incredible detail that Mantel seamlessly weaves into the story. I also really admire how everything that is brought up in the story serves a purpose and will eventually be brought back up again in an unexpected way or time.
The formatting of the story was also creatively and impressively done. It doesn’t follow a linear path, which some readers may not like, but I think the way Mantel moves through time helps to tell a stronger story. It would be helpful, especially in the beginning, to have some knowledge of the events of Cromwell’s life because we are only seeing things through Cromwell’s point of view so the full picture of some historical events isn’t shown. But I don’t think it is necessary to enjoying the story other then maybe making it a little easier to ease into reading it. The latter half of the book the events slow down which makes the book even more enthralling than it already was. There are also a lot of different characters to keep track of which can be more challenging if you don’t already have some knowledge of some of them. I will say that if you just keep reading that the more the characters pop up the easier it will be to distinguish them.
I am really looking forward to picking up the second book in the Thomas Cromwell trilogy, Bringing Up the Bodies, since that one deals with the fall of Queen Anne and the rise of Jane Seymour. In my opinion, Anne Boleyn is one of the most fascinating historical figures and I am really intrigued to see how Mantel deals with the end of her story. I also find the relationship between Cromwell and Anne (well, her whole family, really) to be interesting. If you love historical fiction and haven’t yet picked up this book then I implore you to give it a look. Mantel is a true master of her craft and very deserving of all the praise that she receives. I would also highly recommend this book if you are looking for a phenomenally written piece of literature. The story of Thomas Cromwell has all the things needed for a good story. Romance, humor, death, political intrigue, murder, love, family and it is, mostly, all true.
*Note: I am adding this at the bottom of my review because it seems disingenuous to add it after the fact since it never occurred to me while writing it to bring up the way Mantel uses (or overuses) the word “he”. And that is because I never even noticed that she does it. Which I don’t know what that says about me since it seems like almost every review on Goodreads mentions it! But I was never confused about who was speaking or who each person was speaking to. But I also thought maybe I should mention it here since it seems like everyone but me noticed it.