I never wrote anything official about Wolf Hall, as I'm fairly certain it predates this blog. However, Wolf Hall was just a thrilling read, partly because of the difficulty. I'm not often challenged by reading, but something about this one---the historical background, the writing style, the complex story---made it just an awesome read. I loved it. A few years later, in the summer of 2012, the sequel came out. I believe I pre-ordered it on Amazon, but I didn't read it. The next March, it was in the Tournament of Books, and I read *every other book that year* except for Bring Up the Bodies. Weird, right? To be honest, I think I just feared disappointment. What if it wasn't as good, and it ruined Wolf Hall, too? (Let's call that the Breaking Dawn effect, mm'kay?)
You'll be pleased to know that Bring Up the Bodies was just as great of a read as Wolf Hall, but in an interesting and different way. BUtB was highly readable, fast-paced even, while Wolf Hall was more measured and slow to unfold. The novels are set during the reign of Henry VIII, but the main character is his right-hand man and advisor, Thomas Cromwell. In the first, Cromwell engineers the dissolution of Henry's marriage to his first wife, Katherine of Aragon. This causes the break with the Church, and also paves the way for Henry's marriage to Anne Boleyn. The novel ends with the execution of Thomas More, but rather than showing him as a heroic protector of religion, Wolf Hall shows him as small-minded and petty.
In this book, the focus is again on Cromwell as he leverages Henry's will to end his marriage to Anne in favor of the more genteel, and less threatening figure, of Jane Seymore. One of the interesting things about this book is that Jane herself is a mere pawn in the machinations of the court, whereas Anne is a complex character with her own desires in Wolf Hall. In BUtB, events start to change direction as Anne is unable to produce a male heir, and Katherine of Aragon dies. Henry starts to wonder if Anne has duped him, and his desire for a new woman, one who is more pliable, leads him to think he can cast off yet another wife. It is Cromwell who makes it happen.
Believe it or not, even though you know full well what's going to happen, Mantel is the master of creating a sense of dread and despair as we watch Cromwell set his traps and snare his prey. It becomes clear that his ruthlessness is bound by nothing---and that he is using the opportunity to not only get rid of Anne, but also to settle some old scores. At one point, he explains his mercilessness by saying, "Once you have exhausted the process of negotiation and compromise, once you have fixed on the destruction of an enemy, that destruction must be swift and it must be perfect. Before you even glance in his direction, you should have his name on a warrant, the ports blocked, his wife and friends bought, his heir under your protection, his money in your strong room and his dog running to your whistle. Before he wakes in the morning, you should have the axe in your hand" (351). In other words, watching him take no mercy as he fulfills the King's wishes is to watch a master at work.
I would say, the other fascinating thing to watch in this book is how she sets up Cromwell's own demise. We know that the King will turn against Cromwell one day, and this book is full of warnings, of his own consideration of how he might act if he were ever facing death, and is all foreshadowing for the last and third installment of the story, scheduled for a 2015 release. This time, I promise to not wait to finish it.
As a weird aside, I have only one complaint about this book: I intensely disliked the paper it was printed on. I know this is churlish, but it was made of recycled paper, but the feel of the paper was rough and unpleasant. It felt like rather puply construction paper. I usually don't have a problem with recycled paper, obviously, but for some reason, the entire time I was reading, I was sort of bothered by the tactile feeling of these particular pages. There was a disconnect between the quality of the paper and the hardback book. I guess I expect cheap paper in mysteries and paperbacks? I don't know. It bothered me more than I'd care to admit.