Tudor England. Henry VIII is on the throne, but has no heir. Cardinal Wolsey is charged with securing his divorce. Into this atmosphere of distrust comes Thomas Cromwell – a man as ruthlessly ambitious in his wider politics as he is for himself. His reforming agenda is carried out in the grip of a self-interested parliament and a king who fluctuates between romantic passions and murderous rages.
When I first began reading this novel, I gave up after two pages because I just could not follow what was happening and who was speaking.
Luckily, my new book club had chosen this novel as their book for February, which meant that I had to read it. The second time around it was no different – I had no idea who the narrator was or what was happening – but this time I kept reading, and after page fifty or so, it all clicked and fell into place – narrator, characters, setting and plot (intrigue, politics, back-stabbings, beatings, murders!).
Mantel’s account of Henry VIII’s relationship with Anne Boleyn told through Thomas Cromwell’s perspective was engrossing and action-packed – no dull moments. My knowledge of Thomas Cromwell (the very little I knew about him as being ruthless and manipulative, and possibly murdering) was pleasantly changed. Mantel presented him as a sympathetic character – generous (to a fault), intelligent, hard-working, loyal and, most of all, caring. Seeing this side of Cromwell (whether historically accurate or otherwise) made reading the 650 page tome enjoyable.
I enjoyed it and am in the middle of the sequel, Bring Up the Bodies. This novel is very much worth reading, even if the beginning is a bit of a struggle. Recommended.